National Security and Defence Situation in August – Belarus Security Digest
Belarus Digests in cooperation with Belarus Security Blog is launching a new series of publications – Belarus Security Digest. The new series will cover issues relevant to security in Belarus, particularly to the military, special services and national security of Belarus.
The Belarusian authorities continue with a policy of developing the domestic defence industry, consider the exports of defence products as a promising source of foreign currency. However, there is no imminent breakthrough in sight. Belarus is trying to penetrate the markets of Third World countries with its products and services.
The resounding resignation of General Lieanid Dziedkau, Deputy Chairman of the KGB, confirms the seriousness of the situation of accusations of treason in the KGB.
Defence cooperation with Russia is developing in contradictory fashion. On the one hand, the setting-up of the joint air defence force has already been concluded. On the other hand, uncertainty remains about the prospects of setting up a Russian air base which may indicate that official Minsk has doubts about the need for any additional Russian military presence.
The setting-up of a joint Belarusian and Russian air defence system is complete. The suspense around appointment of the Commander-in-Chief of the Joint regional air defence system of Belarus and Russia (hereinafter JRADS) is now over: Major General Alieh Dzvihaliou, Commander-in-Chief of the Air Force and Air Defence Force of Belarus, was appointed to this position. For many years the setting-up of the JRADS was a bargaining chip between Minsk and Moscow.
On 13 February 2012, Aliaksandr Lukashenka, by his Edict No. 65, approved the Agreement between the Republic of Belarus and the Russian Federation on the joint protection of the external borders of the Union State in airspace and setting-up of the Joint regional air defence system of the Republic of Belarus and the Russian Federation. The agreement was signed by the defence ministers of the two countries on 3 February 2009 already, but it was not approved by the Belarusian party.
The job description of the Commander-in-Chief of the JRADS in peacetime seems rather modest: coordination of the parties’ air defence activities, drafting of proposals on the development of the JRADS, and the development of plans for the use of the forces in combat. In wartime, he has the authority to command the JRADS directly.
The agreement on the JRADS formalizes and streamlines the relationship between the air defence forces of the two countries which have existed since Soviet times. The terms of the Agreement do not provide for transfer of the national components of the JRADS under the joint command in peacetime.
In itself, the appointment of the Commander-in-Chief signifies a logical outcome of the multi-year process. Moreover, the agreement on the JRADS was de facto already in effect in most aspects even before its approval on 13 February 2012. It is not appropriate to characterise this as a deepening of Belarus’ dependence from Russia on the basis of the joint military and technical policy: both parties have the same source of weapons — the arsenals of the Soviet Army. Besides, all fundamental decisions on the functioning of the JRADS are taken by consensus only.
It is a fixed-term agreement concluded for a period of five years. Thus, Minsk will periodically have one more point of pressure to use with Moscow, namely the prolongation of the document.
Belarus and Myanmar are developing military and technical cooperation. Belarus continues to penetrate the markets for military products and defence services in South-East Asian countries. The 6th meeting of the Belarusian-Myanmar joint commission on military and technical cooperation was held from 12 to 16 August. One should take note of the duration of the Commission’s session (five days) and the fact that there is no specific information in the public domain about the outcome of the previous meetings.
Myanmar looks to be a promising market but any goals of real cooperation could be disappointing for the Belarusian side.
Firstly, Myanmar remains a fiefdom of the Chinese military and industrial complex. Myanmar holds a relatively small number of Soviet weapons. Thus, the need for their modernisation (and the number of Belarusian enterprises specialise in this domain) also appears negligible.
Secondly, Belarus also hopes to increase its military cooperation with Bangladesh which has territorial disputes with neighbouring Myanmar. Besides this, tension exists on religious grounds as Bangladesh supports a Muslim minority in Myanmar.
One should not assume that the Belarusian defence industry has the opportunity at this point to take a significant stake in Myanmar. The product portfolio of the Belarusian military and industrial complex is rather small and includes mostly high-tech products and services. Myanmar, for its part, needs mostly mass-production items which can be mastered by staff with a low level of general and professional education and training. Still, Belarusian motor vehicles, anti-tank systems, optics and communication systems, radar systems and electronic warfare systems may have some export prospects. The providing of educational services and training in particular in the field of law enforcement and training for security forces, may also interest Myanmar.
Aliaksandr Lukashenka had a meeting with the generals. On 20 August 2013, a meeting took place which was dedicated to building and the development of the Armed Forces of Belarus. Aliaksandr Lukashenka made three remarkable statements:
– A comment about the need to sell unused and obsolete weapons from the arsenals of the national Army. Earlier, Belarus was actively selling military equipment inherited from the USSR. Now, this stockpile has almost dried up. Only the air defence systems and the multiple launch rocket systems “Smerch” have significant value but they are needed for the country’s own self-defence.
– A comment about a reduction in staff numbers in the military. In general, it should be noted that there is almost nothing left to cut there. Perhaps, some vacant posts could be abolished and some officer positions in auxiliary services (financial managers, lawyers, psychologists etc.) could be converted to non-military positions.
– A comment about the prioritisation of the Air Force and Air Defence Force which confirms the strategy adopted already in early 2000s. The sentence about the beginning of practical implementation of defence agreements with Russia can have a vaguely liberal interpretation.
Prospects for the creation of a Russian military base remain murky. On 28 August 2013, the Belarusian Defence Minister Jury Zhadobin said that the first Russian fighter jets could appear in Belarus by the end of the current year. One should note that the General spoke tentatively about the issue and had difficulty in describing the scale of the expected presence at the first stage (“… a flight or a small unit”).
Belarusian officials have remained silent on the issue of the deployment of the Russian air base. Only informal information circulates, and Russian servicemen are its main source. Thus, the Russian party appears ready to consider not only the question of the deployment of a permanent air base in Lida but also of placing Russian fighter jets on active duty at other Belarusian air bases (first of all, in Baranavichy) on a rotational basis. The rotations will be done from air bases situated on the territory of the Russian Federation, most likely from Lipetsk.
At the same time, the Belarusian authorities have been challenged by the problem of a large (4 to 5 times larger) difference in the allowances of servicemen from the two countries. In this regard, from the point of view of Belarusian generals, a joint stationing of servicemen in the same airfield remains undesirable for political and ideological reasons. The military is considering the possibility of using the air base in Babrovichy as an option. However, it is still unclear whose servicemen – Russian or Belarusian – will be stationed there.
In any case, the Russian military personnel will consist of unarmed flight and maintenance personnel only. There will be about four or five hundred servicemen.
Speaking about the prospects for the creation of a Russian air base, Yury Zhadobin said that after the deployment of the first group of Russian servicemen, the regulatory framework would be prepared and then preparation of the military sites would continue. Such an approach should strike one as surprising. It may have been nothing more than the minister’s slip of tongue or an indication of the fact that the matter of development of the Russian military presence in Belarus has not been completely resolved and the bargaining continues.
Resounding resignation in the KGB. An uncertain situation persists around the statement made by Aliaksandr Lukashenka in July about treason being committed in the KGB. According to the Belarusian leader, an agent of the secret service handed over to a foreign country information which, most likely, concerned officers of the Belarusian foreign intelligence service who work abroad.
So far, there have been no formal announcements about any personnel changes in the top management of the KGB. However, Major General Lieanid Dziedkau has disappeared from the list of Deputy Chairmen of the KGB. This may be an indirect indication of his resignation. General Dziedkau supervised matters of foreign intelligence in the secret service.
Andrei is the head of “Belarus Security Blog” analytical project.
Motovelo Dissapoints Lukashenka – Belarus State TV Digest
Over the last week Belarusian state TV widely covered the international community discussing the situation in Syria and joint military drills with Russia.
It also reported on the visit of the head of state to a bicycle company, that had been partially sold to an Austrian investor. Journalists pointed out his disappointment regarding the company’s still insufficient level of production.
Lukashenka met with Uladzimir Makei, the Belarusian Minister of Foreign Affairs on state television which signalled that Minsk was ready for dialogue with the West.
Motovelo disappointed Lukashenka? The head of state visited Motovelo – a Minsk factory that produces bicycles. Journalists reported that six years ago an Austrian investor bought the state’s shares in the company, but there were terms set that certain obligations needed to be fulfilled. The investor had to pay off the company’s debts, but has not yet fulfilled all his obligations.
Lukashenka visited the factory to check the current production ratio and also to discuss the strengthening of the Belarusian brand in the world. State television also recalled Lukashenka saying that “our economy is oriented for exports”. Belarusian journalist pointed out that in Soviet times the factory produced nearly a million bicycles annually. These days, it is supposed to produce 500,000 of them per year until 2017.
The head of the state was rather disappointed with the ongoing situation and asked the managers: “when will you fulfil our agreement?”, referring to higher production. The managers showed remorse and then promised to improve the situation. Lukashenka gave them time until 1 January to fulfill all the obligations, otherwise they could lose their positions. The head of the Austrian group, Alexander Muravev, was defending the company and proudly presented Lukashenka a new bicycle model.
During his visit Lukashenka raised the issue of the devaluation of Belarusian ruble. In his words, the state would neither weaken nor strengthen it artificially. It will all depend upon the market mechanisms of supply and demand.
The head of state spoke also about the nation’s additional reserves. According to him, those who travel abroad should be required to pay around 100 USD. “We have our own fridges… They criticise us: it’s a poor country, but they [Belarusians] spend 3bn in the EU annually, and then they bring back the junk they bought from abroad”, he concluded.
Scandal with Uralkali to be continued. Belarusian journalists reported that the debts of Uralkali reach over $2bn. They described the excessive spending of Suleyman Kerimov, the owner of the most crucial proportion of shares in the Russian company Uralkali. The state channel fully portrayed in details Kerimov’s luxurious lifestyle: expensive lovers, the number of estates in various countries he has, his ownership of a football club. To make it more vivid, the television cited the commentaries of their colleagues from Russian media, who also remained very critical and ironic towards Kerimov and his current financial troubles.
A draft budget for 2014. Belarusian journalists reported on the Council of Ministers discussions regarding a forecast of socio-economic development of Belarus next year. The politicians also discussed how to improve the economic situation, for example through diversification of exports and attracting more investment to Belarus. Journalists noted that the politicians also identified the additional sources of inflow of foreign currency. They, however, did not elaborate the topic further. “It will help to strengthen the economic and energy security of the state”, the state TV channel concluded.
Preparations for strategic military drills. Television widely reported on the period of preparations for the joint Belarusian-Russian military exercises West-2013. The media noted that this year the whole programme would take part in all areas known as polygons in Belarus and in two stages. It added that the soldiers would use new types of weapons. This year strategic manoeuvres were characterised by self-defence tactics and will prepare the forces to better secure the safety of the Union State of Belarus and Russia. Journalists reported on how the Belarusian side welcomed the Russian soldiers in a traditional way, with bread and salt. They also made mention of the fact that Alexander Lukashenka approved the programme of the exercises.
Belarus-China keen on tightening co-operation. The state television covered a meeting of Lukashenka with a leader of the Chinese Communist Party, Liu Yonshan. Belarusian journalists noted that “today both countries have many joint projects”. One of them is the Belarusian-Chinese Industrial Park. Belarus also remains interested in more direct investment from China, state TV added. State television commented that Lukashenka proposed to establish in Belarus a Chinese media holding “and in such a way people in Europe and post-Soviet sphere will better know our joint projects and initiatives”.
International position of Belarus. Minsk ready for a dialogue with the EU? Lukashenka met with Uladzimir Makei, minister for foreign affairs. They discussed the current international affairs, among them the establishment of the Eurasian economic union, the situation in the EU, Russia, but also the crisis in Syria. Belarusian state television noted that Makei also raised the issue of relations with the EU and USA. In his words, “Belarus is ready for moving forward. The relations should be based upon equality, and be good neighbourly”.
G-20 Summit: Economy and Syria. Belarusian journalists reported on the Summit of twenty the biggest economies in the world that recently closed in Saint Petersburg, Russia. They emphasised the critical position of Beijing against any potential military intervention. State television pointed out that behind the scenes the Chinese vice-minister of finance expressed his concern over oil prices if the intervention would take place. Herman Van Rompuy, representing the European Council, spoke about European expectations to regulate the conflict in Syria through the UN, as shown by the broadcast. As Belarusian journalists pointed out, Washington was ready for military intervention regardless of anyone else’s concerns, “with or without the international community”.
Belarusian TV also drew attention to the financial aspect of the potential intervention, estimated to cost as much as $200m USD. It noted the statement of John Kerry who said that the Arab countries were keen on contributing to the intervention expenses. Journalists commented saying “if that is true, he still did not reveal the name of these countries. It is also unclear how to judge the fact that the Arab states would sponsor the American war”. The state channel concluded that “in any event a decision on military operation against a sovereign state appears to be a serious violation of international law”.
Belarus Digest prepared this overview on the basis of materials available on the web site of Belarusian State Television 1 (BT1). Freedom of the press in Belarus remains restricted and state media convey primarily the point of view of the Belarusian authorities. This review attempts to give the English-speaking audience a better understanding of how Belarusian state media shape public opinion in the country.