Belarus-Russia Military Cooperation: Can the Kremlin Dictate the Terms?
On 26 October Russian President Putin planned for a discussion about the plans for establishing a Russian airbase in Belarus with his Belarusian colleague Lukashenka. They did not meet.
Instead, a Russian general told the press that the base plans had been agreed on with the Belarusian side. The Belarusian defence ministry retorted that there was no political decision on the facility.
The airbase is already two years behind schedule. Unilateral statements made by Russian officials throughout the whole of this period have concealed a lack of progress on the base. "Many years of cooperation between Minsk and Moscow failed to yield an efficient mechanism of joint defence," lamented Russian Nezavisimaya Gazeta daily.
Meanwhile, the number of Belarusian officers studying in Russia has recently declined, as did the scale of major regular joint military exercise in September.
Minsk Makes Clear Its Opposition to Deployment
Russia proposed the establishment of its airbase in Belarus in April 2013. Yet before the October election Lukashenka dismissed any such plans. He also accused Russia's ruling establishment of leaking fake information to the press.
Lukashenka and Putin were expected to talk about the base at a summit in Astana in October this year. But after Astana, Belarusian officials continued to firmly oppose the airbase. The Belarusian defense minister Andrei Raukou and Foreign Minister Uladzimir Makei in late October criticised the idea of the Russian airbase.
Furthermore, although the joint conference of the defence ministries of Belarus and Russia on 21 October discussed the Single System of Air Defence, it failed to touch upon the issue of the Russian airbase, though it would be an indispensable part of the system.
Lukashenka categorically refuses to host an airbase. He wishes to keep guarding Moscow's sky, as he should in accordance with his alliance obligations, with the Belarusian armed forces. He continues to stop the airbase in the hope of increasing the economic benefit Belarus receives from Moscow.
Russian Airbase in Belarus: Political, Not Military
Given Minsk's firm position, Moscow again decided to change the plans. It already accepted moving the base away from the borders with NATO Members (from Lida or Baranavichy to Babruysk) as well as delaying its establishment.
Moscow apparently wants to get the air base in whatever form Read more
On 24 October, the chief of the operative directorate of Russia's Air and Space Forces, Alexander Lyapkin, speaking at a seminar in Moscow announced that Russia wants to deploy 12 fighter jets Su-27 and four helicopters Mi-8 in Belarus. That is half of what Russia demanded during the first discussions.
Such flexibility raises questions about the strategic meaning of the base. After all it has been moved from one end of Belarus to another, and had its force deployment reduced by half. Moscow apparently wants to get the base in whatever form. Apparently it needs it not to resist NATO, but primarily for other purposes.
By establishing a military base in Belarus, the Kremlin achieves another, primarily political goal, namely eliminating any vestiges of Belarusian neutrality which Minsk had built up in the past decade by distancing itself from numerous Russian policies (for example on Georgia and Ukraine) and looking for alternative partners.
Two Decades of Defence Cooperation: Declarations and Realities
At a joint conference of the defence ministries of Belarus and Russia on 21 October, Russian military officials complained that despite 20 years of tight military cooperation between the two countries, the Union State of Belarus and Russia still lacked a clear-cut defence system.
The conference also discussed the implementation of the agreements on the external borders of the Union State and the Single Air Defence System. The latter is in a pitiful condition. In 2013, Moscow declared the establishment of the Single Air Defence System of Belarus and Russia, but it does not currently function.
Belarus in military terms is closely linked with Russia yet the declarations about these links and reality differ a lot. Thus, although formally Belarus buys almost of all the newest armaments which it cannot manufacture itself from Russia, that is only half true.
Minsk cannot afford to buy major military systems despite the degradation of its military equipment. Read more
First, Minsk cannot afford to buy major military systems despite the degradation of its military equipment. This year it acquired four Yak-130 trainer jets and plans to buy four more. The publicised deal on buying armoured personnel carriers from Russia for one battalion remains more a plan than a deal. These were the only major purchases the country made since independence. The only exception were surface-to-air missile systems. Moscow delivered these to Minsk only because Russia could not let Belarusian air defence defending Russian airspace decline.
Second, after the Kremlin in the late 2000s and early 2010s refused to give Belarus some state-of-the-art arms like the Iskander short-range ballistic missile system, Minsk began cooperation with China in 2009 on designing new weapons. In 2012-2013, Minsk reportedly signed two agreements with China on designing two major arms system: a multiple launch rocket system (MLRS) and surface-to-air missile system. The former has already borne fruit, as Minsk this year demonstrated the Palanez MLRS.
Declining Cooperation Volume Figures after Crimea?
Moscow may be worried about Belarusian-Russian integration in the sphere of military education, too. Belarus sends many of its military specialists to train in Russia, in the last 17 years over 1,126 officers have been trained. However, the number of Belarusian officers sent to study in Russia after the Ukrainian crisis has rapidly declined. A year ago there were 447 such students, now there are only 374.
Another example is joint military exercises. Belarus and Russia regularly held large-scale joint exercise, like Shchyt Sayuza. Few commentaries mentioned the fact that this year significantly fewer forces had participated in this exercise.
Four years ago, 12,000 troops and 450 vehicles demonstrated their skills in Shchyt Sayuza-2011. This year Minsk and Moscow committed only 8,000 soldiers and about 400 vehicles. Also for the first time ever, a Belarusian officer, the chief of Belarusian General Staff, Aleh Belakoneu, commanded the joint forces at the exercise.
Evidently, Belarus maintains and increases its autonomy in the military sphere. Minsk will no longer clash with Moscow and it remains a partner of Russia. Yet the Belarusian government itself takes decisions. Although many, especially in the Russian media, try to prove the contrary, every noticeable aspect of military cooperation provides evidence of Minsk's increasing autonomy.
Moscow wants to counter this tendency by getting Russian combat units placed in Belarus. The establishment of a Russian airbase will clearly increase Moscow's leverage over Belarus and its possibilities for more balanced and neutral policies.
Russia Would Rather Cut Pensions than Subsidies to Belarus – Digest of Belarusian Analytics
Belarusian experts discussed Russian subsidies, economic reforms, which the government will have to implement and the challenges of their implementation. Other topics include human rights violations in July-September, coverage of the 2015 presidential elections in state media and the state of the third sector in Belarus.
Foreign policy analysis covers relations with Eurasia and the European Union as well as decisions of the European Court of Justice on targeted sanctions also covered. All this and more in this issue of Digest of Belarusian Analytics.
Andrei Molchan: Russia Would Rather Reduce Pensions to Pensioners than Subsidies to Belarus – Online magazine Ideaby under the Kastryčnicky Economic Forum KEF-2015 presents a video version of a public lecture of Andrei Molchan, the head of the economic program at the Carnegie Moscow Center. KEF-2015 was held on November 3-4, in Minsk and brought together more than 300 participants and about 30,000 online viewers. KEF 2015 related publications received over 2.5 million views via media.
Six Reform Steps in Belarus Proposed by Economy Ministry – The "road map" of structural reforms was presented by First Deputy Economy Minister Aliaksandr Zabarouski at Kastryčnicky Economic Forum in Minsk. The points include ensuring the macroeconomic balance; increasing efficiency in the allocation of financial resources; reducing the role of government in the economy; the increase in jobs in the private sector; the development of the labor market and strengthening social protection systems, and formation of efficient commodity markets and financial services markets.
Macroeconomic Problems of Belarus: It will be Different This Time – Economist Dmitry Kruk discusses stereotypes that have emerged in the past 7-8 years during discussing economic policy and argues that the situation has changed greatly. Now Belarus is in a unique situation when structural reforms are beneficial not only for the long term, but short-term prospects. The material is prepared in the framework of the KEF-2015 conference. See also an infographics piece for the IPM research What Reforms Business Expects, created by IdeaBy journal.
Unemployment insurance will not save. Alexander Chubrik, Research Centre IPM, analyzes the unemployment insurance system discussed by Belarusian authorities. Chubrik argues why this system is problematic and its introduction in Belarus is inexpedient.
Civil Society and the State
Monitoring: The Coverage of the 2015 Presidential Election in the Belarusian Media (Final Report) – The Belarusian Association of Journalists releases the final report on the coverage of the 2015 presidential election in the Belarusian media. One of the key findings is that contrary to the 2010 presidential campaign, this time the state-owned media gave more attention to the election related topics. However, the incumbent still enjoyed a dominant position.
The "Third Sector" is Ready to Become a Reliable Partner for the Government in Reforms, "Just do Not Stifle (video) – For 10 years the Belarusian civil society has become highly professional, its expert opinion is valued around the world, and today in the midst of crisis, the "third sector" can be partner for the state. These points are articulated by guests of a regular Amplituda TUT.by – ecologist Irina Sukhi, Chairperson of the National Platform Svetlana Koroleva, and Chairperson of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee Aleh Hulak.
Analytical Report on Human Rights in Belarus in July-September – The main purpose of the report is to reflect the situation with basic human rights in Belarus and indicate socio-political and economic factors that influence its development. The human rights situation in Belarus during July through October 2015 was influenced directly and indirectly by the presidential election campaign. The report is the result of cooperation between Belarusian human rights organizations.
Third Sector: Progress, Regress, or Stability? – The topic of a new program Black and White, TV channel Belsat, is dedicated to discussion what active citizens can do in a passive society; how citizenship starts and how to develop it, etc. The guests in the studio are Max Hedin, a specialist in the promotion of the Grazhdanstvennost.by project, and Ivan Vedenin, creative director of Talaka.by platform.
Belarus' Balancing Act. Lukashenko Looks West – And East – Andrew Wilson, a Professor at University College London and the author of Belarus: The Last European Dictatorship, suggests an answer, what the difference between presidential elections of 2010 and 2015. In the first case thousands protested in the capital city of Minsk, and the EU and the United States imposed harsh sanctions on Belarus. This year only 100 protesters turned out for a brief demonstration. The EU promptly announced that it would suspend most sanctions for four months. So what changed? In a word: Ukraine.
Eurasian Review №6 – BISS presents the sixth issue of the Eurasian Review, which analyzes the processes of Eurasian integration. Over the past few months, Eurasian integration was marked by a series of significant developments. In August, Kyrgyzstan became a full member of the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU). The main feature of the issue is the lobbying capabilities of Belarus in the EEU.
The Court of Justice of the EU: Chyzh Plays Hockey with Lukashenko, So What? – Andrei Yeliseyeu, BISS, describes a case when the Court of Justice of the EU has made it clear to the Council of the EU’ lawyers that they need to provide more cogent arguments why sanctions must be imposed on Belarusian citizens and companies. The EU’s legislative branch requires incontrovertible evidence of mutually beneficial connections between Belarusian tycoons and the country’s political regime; implicit arguments are insufficient.
Belarus Digest prepared this overview on the basis of materials provided by Pact. This digest attempts to give a richer picture of the recent political and civil society events in Belarus. It often goes beyond the hot stories already available in English-language media.