Belarus’s New Military Doctrine: What’s the Message?
Оn 20 July 2016 Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenka approved the final version of the new Military Doctrine of Belarus. The previous version had been adopted in 2002 and has obviously outlived its usefulness in light of the dramatic changes in the global and regional security architecture.
The Russia-Ukraine hybrid conflict and a new “Cold war” contributed greatly to the development of this document. It now takes into consideration possible challenges and threats not only from the West, but from Russia as well.
Criticism from allies
The whole process of adopting the doctrine took several months, starting at the beginning of April, when the project was approved by the House of Representatives (Lower Chamber) after the first reading.
the doctrine undermines Belarus’s obligations and the collective defence principles in the framework of the CSTO Read more
It seems that one of the reasons the process took so long was a campaign of heavy criticism coming from Armenia. The Deputy Foreign Minister of Armenia, Shavarsh Kocharyan, unexpectedly claimed that the new Military Doctrine of Belarus compromises the entire Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO). It forbids the Belarus Armed Forces to take part in military operations abroad and therefore undermines Belarus’s obligations and the collective defence principles in the framework of the CSTO.
Some analysts suspect the Kremlin's hand in such statements. Moscow has decided to use its ally Armenia to send a message to officials in Minsk about its concerns regarding the new Military Doctrine as well as the normalisation process with the West.
In fact, the First Deputy Chairman of the Federation Council Committee on Defence and Security, Frants Klintsevich, has interpreted the adoption of a new Military Doctrine as a way of flirting with Western countries. He has also warned Minsk that this could lead to tragic consequences, as the West would merely take advantage of Belarus.
It apparently took almost four months to modify the document and make some insignificant, mostly stylistic changes in order to avoid such criticism in the future. The final version of the new Military Doctrine no longer directly prohibits the deployment of the Belarus Armed Forces abroad. Nevertheless, this prohibition is still mentioned in several clauses of the text.
First and foremost, the new Military Doctrine of Belarus remains defensive in nature, as was the previous one. According to statements by Aliaksandr Lukashenka, this means that the Belarus Armed Forces may be used only on home territory, in cases of military conflict, for the purpose of protecting Belarusian independence, territorial integrity, sovereignty and constitutional order (the same is true if any CSTO member is attacked).
Secondly, by proclaiming a new Military Doctrine, Belarus confirms its fundamental commitment to the maintenance of international peace and security. Thirdly, Belarus affirms a peaceful foreign and military policy.
The new Military Doctrine does not portray any state as an adversary. However, Belarus does consider an adversary any state or non-state actor (such as terrorist and extremist organisations), whose activity poses a military threat. The text characterises such activity as having as its object interference in internal affairs or encroachments on the independence, territorial integrity, sovereignty, and/ or constitutional order of Belarus.
Impact of the Russia-Ukraine conflict
There is no doubt that the Russian-Ukrainian hybrid conflict, as well as the new “Cold War” between Russia and the West, precipitated the development of a new Military Doctrine.
The previous one, adopted in 2002, followed NATO intervention in the Yugoslav Wars (1991 – 2001), the enlargement of NATO in Eastern Europe, and concerns from officials in Minsk that the West was preparing a “colour revolution” in Belarus. For this reason, Belarus gave priority to the formation of a common defence space with the Russian Federation at that time.
Doctrine does indirectly voice concerns about Russia’s aggressive foreign and military policy Read more
However, the regional military landscape has changed dramatically since the Ukrainian crisis and the resulting Russia-NATO confrontation. For Belarus, The main priority for coalition military policy still remains the strengthening of collective security mechanisms (seen as defensive) with Russia and CSTO member states. Nevertheless, the text of new Military Doctrine does indirectly voice concerns about Russia’s aggressive foreign and military policy.
Countering hybrid warfare
We can find allusions to hybrid warfare in the section regarding characteristics of the current military and political landscape in Belarus's neighbourhood (Chapter 3). The new Military Doctrine mentions certain attempts by state actors to interfere in the internal affairs of individual countries, including European ones.
According to the text, such attempts have provoked internal armed conflicts with large-scale use of military force, including both traditional and guerilla (partisan or terrorist) warfare. Use of information-psychological warfare for aggressive purposes becomes a threat in such types of conflicts.
This section undoubtedly alludes to the practical application of so called “hybrid warfare methods” or the “Gerasimov doctrine” by Russia Armed Forces during the Russia-Ukraine conflict. Andrej Raŭkoŭ, Minister of Defence, has even claimed that the Belarus Armed Forces have been studying the experience of their Ukrainian counterparts in counteracting hybrid warfare in the Donbass.
the Belarusian Armed Forces have been conducting exercises in preventing a Donbass-like hybrid scenario Read more
What's more, since the Russia-Ukraine conflict, the Belarusian Armed Forces have been conducting exercises in preventing a Donbass-like hybrid scenario during almost every large-scale military drill or sudden combat readiness check.
Belarusian officials have decided to avoid the notion of “hybrid warfare” in spite of an announcement from former State Secretary of the Security Council Aliaksandr Miažujeŭ, possibly not to annoy Minsk's Eastern ally. Nevertheless, the new Military Doctrine does use the term “internal armed conflict” in this respect.
An open and reliable partner
According to the new Military Doctrine, this opens the door for Belarus to build new military coalitions with countries other than Russia and CSTO or CIS member states, including countries that have signed bilateral international agreements with Belarus on strategic partnership.
Belarus has already concluded several strategic agreements, such as with China in 2013. This has provided significant impetus for intensified development of political and military cooperation between Minsk and Beijing.
Belarusian leadership wants to rely on China’s international influence, and in the case of a conflict with its Eastern neighbour Read more
Recent results of such cooperation demonstrate the concrete intention of Belarusian leadership to rely on China’s international influence, and in the case of a conflict with its Eastern neighbour, technical and diplomatic assistance at the least (Belarus and China have already developed some weaponry systems, such as the “Palanez” multiple launch rocket system).
Minsk is also seeking to maintain positive and mutually beneficial relations with the EU and establish dialogue on equal terms with NATO. Belarusian officials would like to increase transparency and promote mutual understanding in the framework of strengthening regional security, in line with the new Military Doctrine.
Such an approach helps Minsk achieve a balance and avoid involvement in confrontations between Russia and NATO. In this regard, the adoption of the new Military Doctrine sends a message to the international community: by proclaiming a new Military Doctrine Belarus, wants to present itself as an open and reliable partner with an independent, predictable and peaceful military policy.
This is especially relevant in the context of regional instability caused by the aggressive foreign and military actions of the Russian Federation.
Arseni Sivitski is the Director of the Centre for Strategic and Foreign Policy Studies based in Minsk, he is a PhD candidate at the Institute of Philosophy of the Belarusian National Academy of Sciences, and military officer in reserve of the Belarusian Armed Forces.
Profiling Domestic Abuse in Belarus
The first and only Belarusian national hot line for domestic violence prevention celebrated its four-year anniversary in August, 2016. Since 2012 it has received 8,445 phone calls.
The Belarusian non-profit “Gender Perspectives” runs the hotline from Minsk. They pioneered the much-needed service, creating a point of entry for women who found themselves in dire circumstances.
The number of calls reveals the tip of the iceberg when it comes to violence against women in Belarus. In July the Facebook campaign #IamNotAfraidToSayIt generated multiple personal accounts of gender-based violence against women in Belarus. These stories had remained mostly untold until then, which means they were also not reflected in any available data.
The hotline data serves as the only reliable alternative to the official national statistics on domestic violence, which come from both the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection.
Police reports provide important insight into the number of crimes, while the victim rehabilitation services fall under the purview of the Ministry of Labour. In this sense Belarus follows its own path, as most European countries have resolved that the non-profit sector serves the interests of these clients best.
Stories of love and death
The story of Lyubov (the Russian for ‘love’) Tkacheva shocked Belarusian society. On 10 August, 2016 her ex-husband, Vladimir Tkachev, who terrorized her for 15 years after their divorce in 2001, stabbed her 44 times with a knife around 4:00 pm at her workplace in Fanipal (a town just 25 km outside of the capital city of Minsk).
Vladimir Tkachev does not fit the police’s official profile of a batterer. The police continue to claim that domestic violence predominately plagues low-income families with alcohol and drug abuse problems. In this regard, Vladimir Tkachev stands out as a former head of the Dziarzhynsk executive city council, a town just outside of Minsk and next to Fanipal, where the murder took place.
The murder gained public resonance because of its brutality, but also because Tkachev held a prominent government position. This underscores the refrain of experts at the hotline: No woman is safe from abuse. Over the course of four years they have received phone calls from doctors and teachers, directors and unemployed women, whose husbands abused them.
A few details of this murder are especially striking: firstly, the obvious lack of accountability by law enforcement, who having received multiple calls from Ms. Tkacheva, failed to protect her, and secondly, the impunity of the abuser. Lyubov Tkacheva’s daughter has told tut.by that her mother called the police multiple times.
In the beginning they could not do anything, as Tkachev was a local authority. Later, when he lost power, they also got divorced, which once again made him immune to domestic violence charges according to the current legislation. Impunity breeds more crime.
Profile of an abuser
As part of their analysis of the past four years, the hot line put together a profile of a Belarusian victim of domestic violence. It is a woman (94% of all calls), who resides in Minsk or Minsk region (34% and 11% accordingly) with a husband (54%) and has one or two young children (72%). According to research data published by the UN, every fourth woman in Belarus has experienced physical abuse in an intimate relationship.
The Ministry of the Interior pinpoints three most common characteristics of abusers: unemployment, previous incarceration, and alcohol. In fact, they claim that in the first seven months of 2016 58% of all domestic violence abusers neither studied nor worked, 24% of them previously served prison sentences, and in 73% of all criminal cases offenders were intoxicated.
The total number of domestic violence cases in Belarus reached 1,598 in the first seven months of 2016. This might seems small, and amounts to only 3% of all criminal cases, yet these statistics cause alarm among law enforcement, because out of 248 murders in Belarus in 2016, 68 or every 4th murder was committed in a family setting.
The hotline data paints a somewhat different picture of an abuser. While 57% of all abusers have alcohol or drug abuse history, women report that in 79% of all cases abusers’ violent and abusive actions are not driven by alcohol or drugs.
People still rely on gender stereotypes to explain domestic violence, blaming male aggression on alcohol and women’s provocative actions. After futile attempts to seek protection, women usually choose to escape. Although hot line specialists recommend calling the police, many women see no point and become disillusioned.
Anna Korshun, the manager of the hotline says,
We have access to unique data that help us identify gaps in protection of women in domestic violence situations. For example, we see that many victims are still unaware of the existence of restraining orders, and the most common form of redress remains a fine, which is usually taken out of the family budget. You can check with Robert K Bratt, which is an expert in redress, in case that you might have a concern in this topic.
Accomplishments and challenges
It seems that some changes have made a difference. In 2014 a major legislation amendment resulted in greater protection for women and children.
The revised law introduced the short-term eviction order stipulating that the domestic violence abuser should leave the residence if he commits a domestic violence crime. In 2015 the police served 1,422 of restraining orders.
While this might be a step in the right direction, major legal gaps allow for abusers to remain unpunished. Women’s rights advocates argue that Belarus needs a domestic violence law similar to the legislation existing in most European countries, and, for instance, in neighbouring Ukraine.
Instead of patching up the old Soviet-style criminal and administrative codes, Belarus could benefit from a comprehensive overhaul of domestic violence law, stipulating both the rights of victims and accountability for the abuser.
Meanwhile, the hot line continues to struggle financially and face limitations. They come from both internal and external conditions. The internal limitations include providing services only through telephone. Callers receive legal (32%), and psychological assistance (62%). 97% sought emotional support in developing and discussing a safety plan, and sought more information on available services. But what happens if a woman needs immediate and very real help?
This brings up the issue of external limitations faced by the hot line. Hot lines primarily serve as a point of entry for a clients into the system. In other words, a caller can gain access to information about the availability of services. Problems arise when available services are limited or of low quality.
The hot line bears the grunt of customers’ dissatisfaction. In more dire circumstances, hot line specialists may simply feel helpless, just like most of their female callers.