Belarusian Police Image, Bаrgaining for а Russian Air Force Base – Belarus Security Digest
On 5 December 2013, after a month of waiting, Aliaksandr Miazhujeu was appointed the State Secretary of the Security Council.
Top police officials continue to work on improving the police's image among the population and fight against negative incidents from occurring within the agency. In the context of budget constraints, the main emphasis in this struggle is being made through ideological appeals and various organisational levers.
Practical steps towards establishing a Russian air force base in Belarus have been made. However, this does not mean that the bargaining regarding this site is over.
Official Minsk has yet to achieve its goals.
Russia is becoming more and more interested in Belarus' military and industrial complex. The reason for this is both the technologies Belarus has and the decline of Russia's own culture of industrial manufacturing.
The Security Council of Belarus has a new boss
When speaking about the appointment of Major-General Aliaksandr Miazhujeu to the position of the State Secretary of the Security Council, we should focus on a number of key points.
First, the position of the Head of the Security Council was vacant for over a month. This is evidence of an unscheduled transfer of the former State Secretary Leanid Maltsau to the position of Chief of the Border Guards. It also points to the fact that Aliaksandr Lukashenka has a small substitutes' bench.
Secondly, over the last year Aliaksandr Miazhujeu was a member of the Chamber of Representatives and the head of the Commission on Defence. Traditionally, MP status has been a pre-retirement sinecure for the Belarusian nomenklatura.
This is already the second case when the Chamber of Representatives has "shared" its staff with the executive branch. On 14 November 2013, Aliaksandr Lukashenka appointed Uladzimir Krautsou, previously the Chairman of the Commission on the Economy, as Chairman of the Hrodna Region Executive Committee.
Apparently, the delay with the appointment was caused by the need to find a person who was not previously among the top nomenklatura. It was made in order to disavow allegations of a personnel crisis as well as to replenish the top management with new staff.
The position of Head of the Security Council is a technical one, rather than a political one. Under conditions where the State Secretary has to coordinate the work of several agencies with often conflicting interests, and taking into account the specifics of the decision-making process in our country, the position can be like running through a minefield. Especially when the demands of the political leadership to the security agencies are backed within only sparse monetary support.
In general, one should not expect any significant change in the work of the security agencies.
Ministry of Internal Affairs seeks to improve its image among the population
In 2013, 33.9% of population trusted the police (according to information put out by the Ministry of Internal Affairs itself). This figure remained stable over a rather long period of time. It means that working with the population to improve the police's image has yet to bring about the desired results.
Particular focus is being put on discipline and the rule of law among police officers and servicemen from the Internal Ministry troops. However, the agency prefers to maintain their silence about any results they may have, or may not have, achieved. Up to this point, publicly officials have only emphasised that the measures which have been taken have helped to reduce "some negative incidents" from occurring in their police work.
The Ministry of Internal Affairs recently issued order No. 424 which aimed at maintaining a healthy lifestyle among police officers and the servicemen from the Ministry's troops and members of their families. The documents set guidelines for minimising one's smoking and eradicating other bad habits, preventing any kind of deviant behaviour or addictions. They have also declared 2014 as the Year of a Healthy Lifestyle in the police agency.
At the same time, the agency's top management became concerned again with the state of corporate ethics. First of all, the question is of preventing information leaks about specific facts and incidents which show the negative side of the situation in the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Disclosure of negative information about the actions of the police force's leadership is considered to be especially unacceptable.
On the other hand, the Ministry's top officials asked the heads of field offices to hault the usage of verbal insults and abusive language towards their subordinates which has long been one of the main ways of managing rank-and-file police officers and exert influence on them. This struggle to improve morale and the general situation within the police force has already been going on for many years now, and judging by the fact that the same points have remained relevant all this time, the programme can be deemed inefficient.
The Ministry's top management sees strengthening the ideological foundations of its employees as crucial in shaping a culture of high professional standards, improving the moral and psychological climate, and promoting discipline and the rule of law in its police and military units as the main means by which they can overcome poor conduct in their ranks.
The top brass is particularly concerned with an increased in the number of incidences of defiance and even resistance on the part of the population to police on duty. Currently, society is dominated by generations of people which grew up during the post-Soviet era, an integral part of which was "romanticism" for the underworld and its associated morality and behaviour, nihilism for the law and penchant for violence. Obviously, the declining social status of a law-enforcement officer in the eyes of ordinary people will continue to drop in the future. Accordingly, one can expect more frequent cases of violent acts towards the police.
Bargaining around the Russian Air Force Base in Belarus continues
On 10 December 2013, the Belarusian authorities officially recognised the presence of an detachment (4 aircraft) of Russian fighters Su-27P in Belarus which are deployed at the air force base in Baranavichy (the 61th Belarusian Fighter Air Force and Aerial Defence Base). It is worth noting that it was announced only after the news had already been reported by independent media.
Russian Air Force crews will now be staying one month each on a rotational basis in Belarus to carry out joint combat duty flights in protecting Belurasian airspace. The Russian fighters are under Belarusian command and it is likely to stay this way until the agreement on the air force base is signed.
Instead of the Su-27SM3 fighters which were initially announced to be arriving, fighters of the "P" class were sent to Belarus. The Su-27P is a defence aircraft and, according to open sources, is not able to use air-to-surface weapons.
The Russian air force base was originally a tool of the Belarusian authorities for achieving three goals:
- guaranteeing political support from Moscow on the eve of the 2015 elections;
- getting larger financial support from Russia;
- taking issues tied to privatisation off the table.
However, judging by recent events (the maintaining of a remittance on export duties for petrol products in the Russian budget, the unclear prospects of achieving an optimal oil balance in 2014, continued demands for privatisation of some industrial assets by Russia), the last two points remain unfulfilled. This can explain the absence of any explicit enthusiasm from the Belarusian propaganda machine towards this event.
It is evident that the bargaining for the creation of a truly Russian air force base in Belarus continues and the overall situation remains uncertain. After having deployed the first element, Moscow, for image reasons, will be interested in pushing the air force base issue through and achieving its practical implementation. For Minsk this gives them a potential opportunity to ask for the highest possible price.
Russia tries to buy companies from Belarus' military and industrial complex
In December, the government of Belarus announced that preparatory work for the de facto sale to Russian investors of four enterprises (Integral, MZKT, MAZ and Peleng) which manufacture military and dual-use products would continue.
Admitting the Russians to the positions of management in these companies is the price which Belarus has to pay for lifting the existing restrictions on access for Belarusian companies from the military and industrial complex to Russian public procurement tenders (including those available within the framework of the State defence procurement). Moscow promised Lukashenka that they would lift these restrictions back in September 2012, right after his meeting with Vladimir Putin in Sochi.
According to the Belarusian leader, the countries' leadership has agreed that all Belarusian enterprises would be able to participate in tenders for the procurement of products for the Russian State defence sector on equal terms with Russian companies. However, some restrictions still remain, especially if a Russian manufacturer of similar products exists, even if the products are of lesser quality or more expensive.
The continued interest from Russia in picking up Belarusian companies in this sector may reflect at least two trends things.
First, Russia seeks to bring under its control the maximum number of components needed for the manufacturing of military-related items in order to minimise any potential political risks in future bilateral relations and to prevent Belarusian technology from being leaked to other countries, which primarily means China.
Second, despite all their best efforts and significant budget restrictions, Russia is technologically unable to create its own complete closed system of defence manufacturing that could completely replace Belarus' own defence and weapons manufacturing industry.
Another issue is the very real cultural decline of production in the Russian military and industrial complex. Fatal accidents such as the launch of the Proton vehicles, the crash of the Kazakh MiG-31 fighter jet which was repaired in Russia, and complaints with the quality of the Su-34 and Su-35 from the Russian military are facts too serious to ignore.
Andrei is the head of the “Belarus Security Blog” analytical project.
Belarusian Army: Between Disarmament and Optimisation
On 4 January, the Belarusian army deployed a third battery of the Tor-M2 short-range surface-to-air missile systems, supplied to them by Russia. In December, the first Russian fighter jets arrived at a prospective Russian air force base in Baranavichy. Does this signal that the regional military balance is changing in favour of Minsk and Moscow?
Nominally, Belarus possesses an impressive old Soviet armoury. Yet it acquired few modern arms after gaining its independence. In a rare admission to the situation with the nation's defence two years ago Belarusian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka stated that the active lifetime of Belarusian military aircrafts was expiring. The military continues to fly old Soviet aircraft, but then decommissions them without finding any replacements.
Minsk – even with its recent growth in its spending defence budget – spends little on its military. Moscow demands money for its weapons and prefers to deploy its own forces instead of rearming Belarusians oat Russia's expense. This takes away from Lukashenka's ability to leverage Belarus as a provider of security in his dealings with Russia.
Butter Instead of Canons
Some new equipment reportedly will soon arrive — four more divisions of Russian long range surface-to-air missile systems, the S-300. Belarus also concluded with Russia a contract on purchasing four Yak-130s, an advanced jet trainer/light attack aircraft.
Yet this is too little, too late. Firstly, both of these surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems – the Tor and S-300 – were expected be part of the Belarusian army's arsenal many years ago. While they are only now finally being delivered to Belarus, the Russian army is arming itself with the newest line — the S-400s. Belarus is just replacing its old S-200s.
Secondly, modern as it may be, the subsonic Yak-130 cannot replace full-fledged jets like the Su-27s that were decommissioned in 2012. Belarusian officials explained the decommissioning of these aircraft by pointing out the small air space of the country.
Another plausible explanation is that Belarus cannot afford maintenance and purchases of new machines. In the 2000s, the government never allocated more than 1.48 per cent of its GDP for defence. This prolonged neglect created an acute situation and in recent years the defence budget has grown. In 2012, it made up 1.6% of the GDP, in 2013 –1.8%, and this year it is about to reach 1.97%.
However impressive this may sound, the actual sum is about $740m. Meanwhile, one fighter jet like the Su-27 or Su-30 costs $35-50m, and one S-300PMU-1 SAM system is $800m.
Under these circumstances, it is no wonder that the Belarusian establishment lacks a militaristic mood. The secretary of the parliament's National Security Commission Alyaksandr Myazhueu admitted, “There is no military threat per se now, although NATO activity in neighbouring countries causes some concern. On the other hand, without any political and social destabilisation occurring inside the country, it is hardly possible to launch an armed conflict in it.”
Major General Myazhueu also urged them to sort out social issues – “especially housing maintenance and utilities, housing construction, creating employment etc.” He apparently spoke the words that Lukashenka had been wanting to hear and shortly afterwards, in December, Myazhuyeu became State Secretary of the Security Council.
Why Did Moscow Hurry to Send Its Aircraft to Belarus?
The rhetoric of the Belarusian leader often clashes with reality. In August, Alyaksandr Lukashenka proclaimed both air defence and air force as the key priorities for the development of the armed forces. He apparently hoped to receive Russian funding to modernise the country's aging air defence and air forces.
Each have for years had problems with modernising their old Soviet equipment and Belarus still struggles to get enough S-300s from Moscow. Russia helps the Belarusian army only in a limited way and receiving something like an extra couple of Tor systems does not matter much in the grand scheme of things. The last time Russia supplied Belarus with a significant shipment of missile systems was seven years ago.
The situation is not better with the air force – by early 2013 they decommissioned about 50 aircraft due to their age without finding a proper replacement for them afterwards. In addition to the remaining Soviet jets, the army has only ten slightly newer second-hand L-39Cs, which is a military trainer and light ground-attack aircraft.
The Russian leadership has not helped Belarus by providing it with newer Russian aircraft. In September 2012, Lukashenka boasted after a meeting with Putin: "We discussed many issues with the air force. I asked for help and received it. Soon we will get new aircraft to guard our borders."
Putin, however, did not deliver anything. Not even the 18 second-hand Su-30 jets, which were repaired in Baranavichy and for a long time rumoured to be transferred to Belarusian army. Moscow demanded hard currency for the Su-30s, pretending that it is interested only in money.
This turned out to be a farce when considering the fact that Russia soon after sold the Su-30s to Angola, a country that has an extremely poor credit history with Russia, but is still buying Russian weapons on credit. Strange it may seem, Moscow even had to woo Angola. On the contrary, brotherly Belarus has – due to its international situation – no choice but to stay with Russia, even without any additional incentives in view.
As a matter of fact, Belarus lacks the necessary equipment to guarantee the security of its own air space. In 2012, it established the Single Regional System of Air Defence with Russia. Formally this means that now any breach in Belarusian air security is a breach of Russian defences as well.
By decommissioning its Su-27s at the end of 2012, Minsk has dangerously thinned out its air defence forces in the vicinity of vital Russian economic and political centres like Moscow. It should not take anyone by surprise then that the Kremlin hurried to deploy its own air force to Belarus.
Why Lukashenka Accepted a Russian Base in Belarus?
On 8 December, the first four Russian Su-27 jets arrived in Belarus. Military analyst Alyaksandr Alesin commented on European Radio for Belarus: “That is a complete analogue to what is going on at the air base in [Lithuanian] Šiauliai where NATO's fighter jets stays on alert duty.” Russia is going to establish a full-scale air force base in Belarus in 2015.
Yet this base may change the two nations' bilateral relations. The Belarusian government cultivated for years the image of Belarusian army defending the Russian capital. Lukashenka relied on this image in his disputes with the Kremlin and, in a way, speculated on it to maintain his own popularity with Russians. The loss of this image would seriously undermine Lukashenka's position in his dealings with Russia, so he initially resisted the Kremlin's proposals to deploy Russian forces in Belarus.
Minsk accepted the Russian takeover of some air defence duties only as the technical problems facing the Belarusian armed forces became too conspicuous. Belarus was losing its capacity to control its air space and the Kremlin refused to grant modern arms to its closest ally. Thus Lukashenka accepted something he refused to do for years – a Russian military base on Belarusian soil – to get at least a few SAM systems and jets.
If the current trends resulting from under-funding continue, the national armed forces will gradually loose nearly all of its advanced capabilities. All of its tanks and impressive machinery are useless without air support in the modern era. Minsk also needs advanced weapons and equipment to deal with new terrorist threats on the rise globally and in the post-Soviet region.
Talk coming from Minsk about optimising the size of the army is disarming. It is shifting to light aircrafts, is spending little on defence, and relegates many of its own defence tasks to the Russians. As a result, it is loosing its significance for Russia as a partner in the military realm and will face all the political consequences as a result. Moreover, it is undermining its own sovereignty in the process.