Russia is Trying to Control CSTO Countries, Mobilisation – Belarus Security Digest
Fears that a call for mobilisation was on the horizon sent the public into a panic in Belarus, though the concerns were largely unfounded.
The Belarusian military and industrial complex is planning for the future and hopes on orders from Russia, though it remains unclear whether they will procure them. The CSTO creates a strategic defence management system and will try to confront the West in cyberspace and its information operations.
Russia is trying to Control CSTO Countries
The Collective Security Treaty Organisation also shared its new plans in January. A defence management body of member countries – the Centre for Crisis Response – is being established to support the alliance. It will be paired with Russia's National Centre for Defence Management. It will allow the CSTO to use tried-and-true channels of operational communication and management in crisis response situations. The respective national management mechanisms of the CSTO's members will be connected to a single centre, making use of the same channels of communication.
Cooperation in the field of information security develops within the framework of the CSTO's operations. An operation known as "PROXY", set up to combat crime, has become a full-fledged standing body. It will allow them to enhance cooperation in the field of information security, identify attempted information attacks on its members and criminal acts being committed on electronic information networks.
CSTO established an Advisory Focal Point for Cyber-Incidents has been established. The new mechanism will warn about information security vulnerabilities, prevent attempts to infiltrate information networks and identify actions directed at harming the states' respective information resources.
The CSTO's information security policy is not limited only to protecting information networks and resources from unauthorised interference and modification. Rather, this is just one of many things it is tasked with doing. The primary objective is to create a system to "counter attempts to use information resources for anti-government purposes aimed at destabilising the situation and violently overthrowing the government in CSTO's member countries".
Simply put, CSTO countries hope to control their own information space in order to carry out efficient information activities within it. Given the fact that the capabilities of nearly post-Soviet countries besides Russia in this domain is basically negligible, one can argue that it is first and foremost designed to support Russia.
It will be natural to expect cases of censorship, restrictions set on the dissemination of information, dissemination of 'false information' and anti-Western propaganda.
Provocative Announcement about Mobilisation Leads to Panic
In January, the Armed Forces of Belarus engaged in a session of intensive combat training. They staffed some units to be in line with wartime requirements by calling on reserve units. This move roused the public's excitement: there was a bit of stovepiping about the calling-out up of fifteen thousand reservists because of the escalation of the Russian – Ukrainian war.
False information quickly engulfed domestic information networks and even some serious media outlets picked it up. Meanwhile, the reality on the ground was rather different, with only 341 reservists being called up for training. They participated in firing exercises and tactical exercises in their companies.
The mobilisation of reservists is a common event during military training sessions where it is customary to switch out units from a peacetime to wartime standing and staff them with personnel to their full capacity. It happens regularly. In a typical year, the number of recruits for re-training hovers around two to four thousand people. Judging by the size of the military budget for 2015, one should not expect a specifically planned wave of militarisation in Belarus
Meanwhile, nobody has noticed that during the exercises in January, military units and border guards drilled their interactions in strengthening the protection of the state border and preventing the infiltration of sabotage and reconnaissance groups from a neighbouring country.
The Belarusian Military and Industrial Complex Develops
It is especially noticeable against the background of the stagnation of other sectors of the nation's industry. The Board of the State Military and Industrial Committee (SMIC) met on 30 January to appraise the development of the agency in 2014 and set objectives for 2015.
They confirmed their intentions to decide on issues related to the nation's combat geographical-information systems, integrated
This year, there are plans to develop a legal framework for designing, testing and using UAS as well as for establishing a centre for certification for operating unmanned aircraft equipment (drones).
In 2015, the SMIC and law enforcement agencies will identify key areas where they can improve the efficiency of national security operations, including in the area of defence and develop proposals accordingly, which has been designated as a priority.
Defence goods and service exports continue to grow, up 118.6% compared to 2013. The agency's export policy seeks to identify new markets, develop investment cooperation with foreign partners, attract new technologies, and use bundled offers and state support for pushing exports.
Separately, the SMIC's chairman underscored the intentions of Belarusian defence enterprises to participate directly in Russian state defence orders. Currently, their participation remains indirect. So far, the Russian side is still doling out empty promises of equal rights to the Belarusian military and industrial complex.
Siarhiej Huruliou, the head of SMIC, admitted that there was a slowdown in cooperation between the Belarusian defence industry and their Ukrainian colleagues "for some reason, [but] not related to the Belarusian [party]".
The Belarusian military and industrial complex is getting ready to design a combat UAV. However, to date, the ministry of defence failed to formulate a clear-cut position on this issue.
Andrei is the head of “Belarus Security Blog” analytical project.
Belarusian Authorities Crack Down on Football Fans
In recent months the Belarusian police have intensified pressure on young football fans – followers of the 'ultra' subculture. In January police detained at least 69 young ultras.
In Salihorsk in late January 20 fans of a local team were detained for holding an unauthorised fireworks show. Several days later, on 31 January, police detained 49 fans at a FC Biaroza – FC Garadzieya match in Minsk. This is a significant number of detainees for a country where football season starts in March with almost no matches in January.
The ongoing conflict between the police and radical football fans escalated after several Belarusian ultra groups openly supported Ukraine's own “revolutionary ultras”. They displayed banners online in support of the protesters in Kiev and chanted Ukrainian nationalist slogans from the stands.
The clashes between the ultras and riot police in Kiev at the start of 2014 made Belarusian security services very nervous. The authorities treat the ultra subculture as a group capable of organising anti-government protests during the presidential election in 2015 and are trying to intimidate youngsters by frequently detaining some of the more active fans among them.
A Genealogy of Belarusian Ultras
The history of Belarusian fan-culture goes back more than 30 years. The first ultras groups in Belarus appeared in the beginning of the 1980s when a group of Minsk youth united to support FC Dynama Minsk successfully play at the USSR's grand championship. Then all fans had to be seated in stadiums. The Police and KGB felt that some fans' more active approach to supporting their team with chants and colourful attributes had been borrowed from the capitalist West and were anti-Soviet by nature. And thus, the ultras were often targeted and persecuted.
Control over the various groups of ultras significantly decreased after perestroika started in 1985. During this era, the number of Dynama Minsk ultras rose noticeably. Hundreds of Minsk fans every year visited Vilnius for the away matches against the local FC Žalgiris which, for fans, became the main rival of the Minsk ultras.
In an independent Belarus, the ultras' subculture became popular at the end of 1990s when groups of them popped up in every major city throughout the country. Initially the fan subculture developed under the influence of Russian ultras who are infamous for their right-wing political views and xenophobia. But, at the turn of the decade another trend developed in the ultras movement. Many of the groups began using the Belarusian language on its banners, stickers, graffiti and sometimes even chants in Belarusian during their matches.
Several reasons could explain why Belarusian nationalism has substituted Pan-Slavic ideas on stadiums. The development of the Internet and improved mobility of the 2000s has allowed Belarusian ultras to travel to EU countries and engage with fan trends directly, not via Russia. This has coincided with the state offensive on Belarusian culture and many of the youngsters who did not agree with the official interpretation of history. They have found ultras subculture as a good platform for expressing their cultural beliefs as well as a way to protest against a pro-Russian political regime.
The Political Emancipation of the Ultras
Before 2014 Belarusian ultras rarely expressed their political attitudes toward the current establishment in public. However, over the past year they have become one of the primary groups of individuals who have not been afraid of publicly declaring their views on the situation in Ukraine and have subsequently suffered repression as a result of being so vocal.
In the beginning of 2014, a court in Barysaŭ called for the arrest of a group of football fans of the 23 FC BATE Ultras for holding banners with slogans in support of Ukrainian protesters.
In May, before the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championships began, dozens of ultras group members were put in jail for the duration of the tournament to ensure the "tranquillity" of the games. On 9 October, following the match between the Belarus national team and Ukraine, dozens of fans were jailed for 5-15 days for chanting a popular obscene anti-Putin song in the stands.
In 2014, the number of protests overall in Belarus witnessed a marked decline. Last year the traditional opposition meetings on 25 March and 26 April managed to gather only several hundred people. In fact, the protest at the football match against Ukraine in Barysaŭ could qualify as the biggest protest in Belarus in 2014.
Ultras versus Russian propaganda
The ultras of FC Partyzan put a video online where they disrupted a Russian nationalist sporting event in Minsk Read more
By supporting Ukraine, the Belarusian ultras also attracted the attention of Russian propaganda outlets. Football fans serve as a good target for media attacks. Article “The Right Sector of Belarus” by Russian pro-government news-portal Lenta.ru published on 23 January can illustrate this.
The title draws a parallel between Belarusian ultras and the Ukrainian radical nationalist organisation “Pravy sectar” (Right sector). According to one Russian propaganda spin doctor “Last year the virus of Maidan has spread from Ukraine to Belarus and settled mainly in the stadiums' stands”. The reporter goes on to accuse the ultras of nationalism and claims that football fans have turned into a fighting force for the Belarusian opposition.
It is obvious to anyone paying attention that fans have no ties to the divided and demoralised Belarusian opposition, but even so they pose a threat to pro-Russian activists. In May, the ultras of FC Partyzan put a video online where they disrupted a Russian nationalist sporting event in Minsk. Some independent media reposted the video on their pages and most of commentators supported the action of the football fans.
Do the Ultras Pose a Threat to the Regime?
The police feel that youngsters from ultras groups, who were inspired by the example of Ukrainian protesters on Maidan, are one of a few groups capable of actually carrying out and supporting street protests. However, the number of ultras sitting in Belarusian stadiums remains much smaller than in Ukraine. Also a large chunk of the ultras' followers are underage. For instance 31 of the 49 fans that the police detained on 31 January in Minsk were under 18 years old.
On the other hand, the police are doing everything possible to curb their activism. They resort to the same tactics that were previously used on opposition activists during the 2000s and 2010s. Authorities may detain, beat, fine or arrest ultras in order to intimidate them. While this does not decrease the number of ultras in the stands, it does make clear their message – the riot police will not tolerate politics at the stadiums.
Despite attempts by some groups of ultras to publicly declare their political beliefs, an indisputable fact that they are not capable of organising mass protests alone for the president elections 2015. The fact that Belarusian secret police are taking very serious, and even investigating, youth subculture activities, only further demonstrates the weakness of political parties and NGOs, who due to similar tactics being used against them, are not capable of mobilising their forces during an election year.