Belarus Strengthens Its Air Force With Russia’s Reluctant Support
Last week, the Belarusian army newspaper Vo Slavu Rodiny published an article praising the newly received Russian warplanes. However, these Russian aircraft are a step backward compared to the equipment that Belarus already had.
President Lukashenka recently publicly complained that the Kremlin had refused to give Belarus a dozen aircraft. The Belarusian authorities therefore are delaying the establishment of a Russian airbase in Belarus. Minsk trying to convince Moscow to give it newer aircraft.
Is the Agreement on the Airbase Ready?
According to an article published by the Russian news agency Sputnik on 17 August, Belarus and Russia had already agreed technical and legal details on establishing a Russian airbase. The two sides reportedly have prepared a draft agreement.
no Russian military units deployed on the airbase could be used without the consent of the Belarus Read more
According to the draft, Belarus agrees to a permanent Russian military presence in the form of an airbase for at least 15 years after the signing of the agreement. However, according to the document, the prospective airbase will be subordinated to the goals and objectives of the Single Regional System of Air Defense, which means that no Russian military units deployed on the airbase could be used without the consent of the Belarus.
But the situation around the base still remains unclear. Some time ago, Belarusian Defence Minister Andrei Raukou said that the issue of the base still had not been decided upon politically. Speaking on 4 August, Lukashenka likewise failed to mention the prospective airbase while explaining that the existing Russian military communication and radar facilities pose no threat to Ukraine.
Which Planes has Belarus Received?
The issue of the Russian airbase closely relates to the state of the Belarusian Army and its capability to fulfil its tasks with the Soviet-era equipment that it has. Since 1991 Belarus has bought no combat aircraft. Although it may appear that Belarus has many modern aircraft, including up to four dozen MiG-29, the real figure and the state of them has caused many doubts. Belarus has sold scores of planes since early 1990s and has given up on exploiting the more sophisticated Su-27 fighter jet.
Minsk did get some new military equipment. On 12 August, Air Force and Air Defence commander, Major General Aleh Dvihalyou announced that by the end of the month Minsk was going to sign a contract to purchase four more Yak-130 aircraft in addition to the four planes of the same type it had got from Russia in April.
Belarus is going to replace by 2020 all the L-39 Albatros it had used as jet trainers with Yak-130 advanced jet trainer/light attack aircraft. Belarusian officials emphasise that the Yak-130 can carry out a wider range of tasks, while the L-39 functions essentially only as trainer. Moreover, the Belarusian Army has successfully absorbed the Yak-130, said Dvihalyou.
The Army daily Vo Slavu Rodiny proudly wrote, “For the first time in its history, our aviation has used high-precision munition – guided bombs KAB-500Kr – dropping them from the Yak-130.”
No wonder that the Belarusian Army coped with Yak-130, as it is a backward development. For decades the Belarusian Airforce flew older yet more sophisticated machines such as the heavier Su-27 (comparable with the F-15) and the lighter MiG-29 (comparable with the F-16).
Overhaul Instead of Buying
For now, Minsk has failed to get advanced military aircraft from Moscow. On 4 August, Lukashenka said how he had asked Moscow to sell or "give" [whatever it means] Belarus "a dozen of aircraft" before the 2014 Ice Hockey World Championship. The Kremlin offered to “give” Minsk just “three or four” planes which Lukashenka accepted. This story corresponds to previously known information about the aircraft flight of Russian fighter jets deployed to Belarus back then.
Lukashenka insisted that the mentioned aircraft had returned to Russia. So currently no Russian military planes – in any capacity – are deployed in Belarus. He hinted at the problem of getting newer – and even second-hand equipment. Nevertheless, the Belarusian leader asserted
We have enough of aircraft. When I was refused [by the Kremlin] is to be sold certain weapons, including aircraft, I gave the order to overhaul and upgrade ten fighter jets. We have enough of them but their effective life-span nears its end. In November, we will finish the last overhaul – of the tenth fighter.
The Belarusian government obviously tries to strengthen national defence although it has limited funds for this. The following table of the known overhaul and modernisation works undertaken by Belarusian industry for the national army illustrates that.
In addition, Minsk apparently decided to spend more on fuel. The fuel deficit for years debilitated the national air force, as for instance in 2000 a Belarusian military pilot flew two to five hours a year.
In 2011, the Air Force set a goal to achieve 100 hours a year per pilot. The government supports this plan. Recently, the army press hinted at a possible increase in the fuel limit for the Air Force by more than 2,000 tonnes – to 16,000 tonnes in 2015.
Two Goals of the Belarusian Authorities
In its military policies in general and in its modernisation of the air defence in particular, the Belarusian authorities pursue two major goals. First, they want to remain a militarily valuable ally for Russia. In particular, the Belarusian government would be eager to provide air defence for Moscow from the western side by itself.
Belarus established together with Russia the Single Regional System of Air Defence in 2012. Despite concerns that it would put a part of the army under Russian control, Minsk holds its ground and even got its officer appointed as the system's commander. Now, the system serves Minsk as a bargaining chip in its attempts to get economic and political favours from Russia.
But Minsk has a second goal in mind, to keep some distance from Russia, especially after the war in Ukraine.
To resolve the contradiction between the two goals Minsk opted for delaying strategy. Belarus can live with deficiencies in its Air Force yet for Russia they present a vital threat. They mean a hole in the defence perimeter of Russia's capital.
To fill this hole, Russia while refusing Belarus' requests for newer planes in the 2010s decided instead to put its airbase in Belarus. However, if Minsk manages to procrastinate longer, the Kremlin will have no other option but to give Belarus the planes it wants.
SuperHeroes School, Path Of Health, Day of Solidarity – Belarus Civil Society Digest
Belarus and Lithuania connected by bicycle paths. Third Kastryčnicky Economic Forum launches preparations for an event in Minsk. Belarusian authorities launch a principle of a "single window" for all international technical assistance projects.
Communal services reform is coming. A group of expert panellists hold a discussion titled “Does the Belarusian Government Needs NGOs.
Civil Society Initiatives
The Day of Solidarity with civil society and human rights movement in Belarus. 4 August was the day marked by democratic activists around the world as the Day of Solidarity with civil society and human rights movement in Belarus. The campaign was launched three years ago to mark the day when in 2011 Ales Bialiacki, Belarusian human rights activist, was arrested (released in June 2014). This year organisers called to join the action # 4Aug and support the Belarusian civil society.
Belarus and Lithuania connected by bicycle paths and water routes. Thanks to an EU-funded cross-border cooperation project "Ecological Transport Uniting Neighbours", a new bicycle "Path of Health" in the Pyshki Forest Park has been opened in Hrodna, Belarus. In addition, a new facility for active leisure lovers with sheds for cooking meals, campfires, and garbage containers was opened to the public along the coastal line of the river Neman, where one can stop when kayaking.
SuperHeroes school realises a series of new bike projects. New parking places, bikequest and bike meeting at Uruchcha were held by participants of the team of first school of SuperHeroes. In collaboration with help of company Nitur, activists have built a new parking place and hold an informal meeting with bicyclists of the Uruchcha district altogether with Falanster representatives. Seven projects of SuperHeroes Summer School are to be realized till October.
Gender equality in CSR strategies of Belarusian companies. Irina Alkhovka of Gender Perspectives speaks to the Office of Democratic Belarus about the need to use gender equality principles when developing CSR strategies. Irina, who is a member of the Council of Ministers’ National Council for Gender Policy, argues that compliance with gender equality principles will help Belarusian companies at the time of crisis.
Seminars and conferences
Office for European Expertise and Communication and British Embassy announce a series of partnership making meetings. Meetings will take place during 2015-2016 years and are opened for civil society organisations working on regional and rural areas and local communities' activists for further professional development. The deadline for applications is 20 August.
Third Kastryčnicky Economic Forum launches preparations. The KEF-2015 conference “Economy of Belarus: At a Tipping Point” will take place on 3-4 November in Minsk. Kastryčnicky/October Economic Forum aims at bringing various stakeholders together to discuss the reform plans of the government, and contribute to building consensus and trust towards a structural reform agenda. The conference is organized by IPM Research Centre together with BEROC and CASE Belarus. Partners are USAID, Pact and the Association of European Business.
EuroBelarus invited cultural activists for a seminar. The EuroBelarus Consortium conducted a seminar for leaders and activists or cultural organisations to attend a seminar “Culture as a tool of social transformation: innovation and unused potential”. The seminar took place on 14-16 August outside of Minsk, and offered master classes and expert discussions on such issues as demanded and sensitive issues of Belarusian society, the role of culture in social transformation and others.
Interaction between state and civil society
Belarus launches a principle of a "single window" for all international technical assistance projects (ITA). The Ministry of Economy will carry out the procedure of approval and registration of ITA projects. To coordinate raising and using ITA, Coordinating Council is being establishing with participation of representatives of Belarus, international organisations and foreign countries. By its 21 July decision the Council of Ministers has approved three international technical assistance projects, including Mobility Scheme for Target Interpersonal Contacts (MOST), Institutional Development and Support of Upgrade Policy of Component Producers for the Automobile Sector in the Republic of Belarus, Education Reform Through International Knowledge Exchange.
Communal services reform is coming? Several draft decrees await their review and signature, and the purpose of which is to kick-start the reform in the communal services sphere. If adopted, the new regulations will offer more rights to home-owners and increase their responsibility for the management of housing matters. Civil society experts believe that the new regulations could become a good start to reform the entire communal services sphere.
18th Edition of CSO Sustainability Index for Belarus is presented as a round-table. NGO “ACT” and a group of expert panellists hold the discussion titled “Does the Belarusian Government Needs NGOs?”. The event gathered around 40 guests, including international organizations and representatives of three ministries. The program included presentation of the CSOSI as well as presentations of SOS-Kinderdorf; NGO “Positive Movement” and sectoral analyses by Office for European Expertise and Communications.
Court dismissed the administrative case against Ihar Barysau, editor-in-chief of the Naš Mahilioŭ independent newspaper, due to expiration of the two-month period for the imposition of an administrative penalty. The journalist was charged when visiting the police department on 13 July where he had come to take back the computers seized from him on charges of defaming the manager of the Stužka state-owned enterprise.
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.