Defence industry, academic autonomy, parliament recognition – Ostrogorski Centre Digest
Over the past month, analysts at the Ostrogorski Centre have discussed the rise of the Belarusian defence industry, the increase in dialogue between European and Belarusian parliamentarians, and prospects of real student self-government in Belarusian universities.
The analysts extensively commented in media on the challenges of Belarus’s strategy to balance between Russia and the EU, ripening changes in the Belarusian political and economic model, trends in the Belarusian arms trade and defence sector, Belarusian-Russian relations after Ukraine conflict, and other issues.
Siarhei Bohdan argues that the Belarusian national defence industry, which emerged in the 1990’s as a helpless fragment of Soviet arms industries, evolved to become a significant branch of the Belarusian economy. This happened also because of the rise of the private sector and diversification of its markets and partners.
These products, including anti-tank rockets, optics, electronics, and missiles, have not only found a market abroad, they have also contributed to national military capacities. Moreover, the development of this branch can set an example for other industries, especially with regard to the incremental development of the private sector and diversification of international ties.
Igar Gubarevich discusses why the marginalised Belarusian parliament has been slowly gaining international recognition. The eagerness of several European national legislatures to re-establish contacts with the Belarusian parliament seems to lack a logical explanation, and no convincing attempt to provide one has been made so far.
The increased contacts of European parliamentarians with their Belarusian “counterparts” have no positive impact on development of democracy in Belarus or promoting the national interests of the EU countries concerned. Meanwhile, such collaboration helps strengthen the international position of the Belarusian government.
Ryhor Astapenia analyses the preparation of a new Education Code, which the authorities are amending partly to demonstrate to the West that they are making changes. In 2015, Belarus joined the Bologna process and is now required to reform the education system accordingly. The new code should state directly that student government will be autonomous and free from guidance by university administration.
Moreover, unions should obtain legal status, as this will allow them to obtain funding from outside the university. However, even if the law changes, Belarusian authorities also need to change their behaviour towards student groups. They should stop the persecution of independent youth organisations and student unions with whom they collaborate.
Comments in the media
Igar Gubarevich met with Tana de Zulueta, the Head of the OSCE/ODIHR Election Observation Mission at the 2016 parliamentary elections in Belarus, and Stefan Szwed, the Mission’s political analyst. The international observers took interest in Igar’s expert opinion on the current political situation in Belarus in the context of the forthcoming parliamentary elections. The analyst shared his insights on eventual implications of this event for Belarus’s foreign policy and specifically the country’s relations with the European Union.
Siarhei Bohdan in the program “Prague accent” on Radio Liberty discusses whether the transformation of independent Belarus into an authoritarian state was inevitable. Despite all the negative aspects of Lukashenka’s authoritarian system, it allowed an independent Belarusian state to be built and maintained. However, in order to ensure a peaceful transfer of power during the end of authoritarianism, Belarusian authorities need to gradually introduce a pluralist and democratic model.
Ryhor Astapenia discusses rece
Yaraslau Kryvoi elaborates on the challenges of Belarus’s strategy to balance between Russia and the EU on Polish radio. Belarus tries to find a sustainable way to balance its main economic partner Russia with its counterweight the EU. Belarus is deeply entangled in Russia’s economic, political and media sphere, so any radical divergence could cause Russia to use force against Belarus. The West should not fear Belarus as it rearms and modernises its army, because it does so only protect its own sovereignty.
Yaraslau Kryvoi also analyses the ripening changes in the Belarusian political and economic model. Many officials responsible for economic policy come from the new generation, some with western education and experience of work in the private sector. The security camp remains more conservative and loyal to Russia, but they also understand that security forces should care about the state’s real problems rather than combat imaginary NATO threats or persecute the Belarusian opposition.
Siarhei Bohdan discusses trends in the Belarusian arms trade and defence sector. Belarus is no longer on the list of the world’s top ten arms traders. It had previously got to the top simply by selling a large number of Soviet military jets at once. On the other hand, arms production is developing rapidly in Belarus, as it managed to produce its own finished arms manufacture. Surprisingly, the private sector has played a major role in this success.
Ryhor Astapenia discusses his recent paper “Belarusian-Russian relations after Ukraine conflict” on Polish radio. Although Belarus has been distancing itself from Russia since the Ukraine crisis, it cannot get out of the integration projects with Russia, such as the Eurasian Economic Union, CSTO and the Union State. Perhaps the distancing will continue, but Belarus will never cross the red line. Regarding relations with the EU, Belarus only normalises relations rather than build an alliance, and cooperation in the political and military sphere remains low.
Ryhor Astapenia comments on recent political developments in Belarus on the “Political mirror” programme on Polish Radio. Suspension of the work of IISEPS in Belarus is a black day for Belarusian analytics, as it was the only organisation conducting polls every three months. The fact that Alieś Lahviniec was denied registration shows that authorities do not want to lose control of the election campaign. The number of members of opposition parties in the election commissions indicates that the elections will take place without any surprises.
The BelarusProfile.com database now includes the following people: Paviel Bielavus, Ihar Tyškievič, Aliaksandr Žuk, Ihar Karpienka, Ivan Naskievič, Eduard Paĺčys, Andrej Jeŭdačenka, Viktar Prakapienia, Uladzimir Vasiĺka, Barys Chrustalioŭ.
We have also updated the profiles of Valiancin Šajeŭ, Aliaksandr Michnievič, Uladzimir Niakliajeŭ, Paviel Šaramiet, Viktar Pierapialica, Siarhiej Parsiukievič, Kiryl Rudy, Siarhiej Navumčyk, Marjana Ščotkina, Aliaksandr Jakabson, Paviel Jakubovič, Aliaksiej Janukievič, Aliaksandr Jarašuk, Jaŭhien Baskin, Kanstancin Bandarenka.
The Ostrogorski Centre is a private, non-profit organisation dedicated to analysis and policy advocacy on problems which Belarus faces in its transition to market economy and the rule of law. Its projects include Belarus Digest, the Journal of Belarusian Studies, BelarusPolicy.com, BelarusProfile.com and Ostro.by.
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.