Russia Still Seeks an Airbase, Financial Constraints, Balancing on Ukraine – Belarus Security Digest
Belarus is running out of money as only priority expenditures receive budget financing. Security forces will get a raise in their wages. However, this bump will simply compensate for inflation.
Russia still wants to get an air force base in Belarus. Drone manufacturers are fighting for the Defence Ministry's orders. The internal troops are suffering from staff shortages.
Possible Russian Air Force Base in Belarus
The creation of a Russian air force base in Belarus may create problems for the Belarusian air force. Russian officials remain the only source of public information about the prospects of creating an air force base in Belarus.
On 1 August 2014, Viktor Bondarev, Russia's air force Commander, said that they would open an air force base in Baranavichy after the signing of an intergovernmental agreement. If this were to occur, there is a high probability that the Belarusian fighter jets, which are stationed there, will be moved to another airfield. They may even be moved to Babrujsk, closer to the border with Russia.
Moving the Belarusian air force fighter jets' base of operations from Baranavichy threatens to negatively affect the staff of the domestic aviation: the big question is whether the authorities will be able to provide housing to airmen at the new duty station, and jobs and schools for their family members.
As a result, some officers may refuse to move to the new duty station and to abandon their already established way of life.
Belarus is Trying to Reassure Ukraine
On 18 August 2014, Alexander Lukashenka received State Secretary of the Security Council Alexander Miazhujeu. They discussed the situation on the Belarusian-Ukrainian border. Lukashenka demanded from the Belarusian border guards to avoid receiving "any legitimate claims from Ukraine", implying that any conflict should be avoided. According to the Belarusian leader, he agreed with President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko that all security agencies of the two countries "should be in permanent contact".
The objective is to avoid any misunderstandings with its southern neighbour. Alexander Lukashenka received reassurances that all of the security agencies of Belarus and Ukraine had established contact among themselves and informational exchange was constantly ongoing.
On the same day, Valiantsin Vialichka, Belarus' ambassador to Ukraine, said at a press conference that Belarus would not allow for aggression from third parties to be committed against Ukraine from its territory. Officially, Belarus is in favour of the territorial integrity of Ukraine and against its federalisation.
The active pro-Ukrainian rhetoric of the Belarusian authorities in August could be a reaction to the information that Russia was preparing a large-scale operation to enforce peace. To do this, Moscow could promptly concentrate forces capable to address not only (and not so much) humanitarian but also combat. Simply put, this would be an intervention.
The CSTO exercises "Inviolable Brotherhood-2014" and "Interaction-2014" practised to prepare for such a scenario. The deployment of Russian forces with their staff and weapons over long a distance preceded the actual drills themselves.
The exercises included the use of artillery, armoured vehicles, aircraft and a massive air assault. In fact, these were not designed to be stricty peacekeeping missions but rather large-scale military operations that have a complementary humanitarian aid component.
'Irtyshia' Falls to Western Perfidy
The Belarusian authorities made these reassuring statements right on the first day of the "Interaction-2014" exercise of the CSTO Collective Rapid Reaction Forces in Kazakhstan. For the training mission, two simulated states were created: 'Karania', a CSTO member, and 'Irtyshia', a neighbour of 'Karania', which was experiencing an acute political crisis provoked by a separatist movement against a backdrop of ethnic tensions.
Meanwhile, the crisis in 'Irtyshia' originated with the support of "some leading Western countries". 'Karania' asked the CSTO for military assistance, and the member states provided such assistance following a decision of the Council for Collective Security. During the exercise, the participants also practised cyber operations on the Internet as well as psychological warfare.
Officially, they talked about the threat of destabilisation in Afghanistan and spreading of instability to the CSTO neighbouring member states. However, the use of cyber warfare suggests that a more developed state was its real objective. The exercise scenario strongly hinted at the ongoing events in Ukraine.
Security Expenditures Stagnate
An increase in security expenditures is not possible at present due to budget problems. The situation with the budget's performance remains difficult. The budget surplus from January – July 2014 was abnormally low for this period of the fiscal year at 0.6% of the GDP and this was only because of the spending restraints on low-priority expenditures. This situation seriously challenges the reality of the Government's plans to achieve a balanced budget in 2014.
Security forces will certainly be recipients of budgetary funds. But they are not going to get much. On 1 September 2014, the service members of the Belarusian security agencies received a raise in their wages.
The average increase was 17% of the official rate of pay. In fact, this is merely compensation for inflation, which has already exceeded 11% since the beginning of the year. Besides, they were told unofficially that the next raise would happen only on the eve of the presidential election.
Struggle for military procurement orders escalates
The situation with Belarus' security agencies equipment, particularly with its drones, has had some rather interesting developments. On the one hand, there are many models. On the other hand, few of them have passed the first stage of official trials and are operational.
With regards to mid-range drones, the Belarusian defence industry has the UAS-100, the official trials of which ended on 30 June 2014 on the premises of the 927th Centre for Setup and Use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems of the Air Force and Air Defence Forces. Belarus can use the UAS-100, the tactical unmanned aerial vehicle 'Grif-1', with a range of up to 100 kilometres in the future.
The main purpose of this model is air reconnaissance. Belarus is a leader among the CIS countries in this category: currently, no other post-Soviet country has a model which is ready for serial manufacturing.
The Internal Troops of the Ministry of Internal Affairs Staff Shortages
The Internal Troops of the Ministry of Internal Affairs are trying to solve a staffing problem. The issue of staff shortages in the Internal Troops of the Ministry of Internal Affairs remains a rather acute one. Thus, a new concept for the personnel policy for the Internal Troops until 2020 was adopted in July. The concept has not yet been released and will most likely will not be made public.
Otherwise, the real level of staff shortage in the Internal Troops has become well known. Meanwhile, the most efficient mechanism is conferment with officers after short-term refresher courses. Those servicemen were not trained for the posts of unit commanders (the most pressing of all shortages facing the Internal Troops). They were trained for officer positions in the EOD and pyrotechnic and canine units and services for the protection of state secrets.
To be more plain, Belarus faces a shortage of field experts. One can only hope that the future officers have attained a sufficient level of qualification during their 1.5-month training.
Andrei is the head of “Belarus Security Blog” analytical project.
Fencing Off the War in Ukraine: Belarus Strengthens Its Borders
On 4 September, Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka signed a decree establishing security zones alongside the border with Russia.
The measure targets illegal migration, drug trafficking, as well as the illicit movement of goods across the border. Until now, the Belarus-Russia border was unsecured due to the special relationship between Minsk and Moscow.
Russian Gazeta.Ru said the decision was due to Belarus's attempts to “flirt with the EU.” The newspaper speculated that Lukashenka may be opposed to the Eurasian Economic Union. Yet the reason for the change in border policy may be much simpler.
Minsk worries about instability on the borderlands between Ukraine and Russia. The conflict and political instability in Ukraine already involves illicit arms and refugee movements in the neighbouring regions of Ukraine and Russia.
Even once the war ends, unrecognised states teeming with criminal activity and prone to instability are likely to emerge just across the border.
Independence: Time to Build Fences
Establishing border security zones with Russia is a final step in setting firm borders for the country. Independent Belarus inherited from Soviet times only one full-fledged state border – with Poland, established by the Soviet-Polish treaty of 1945. Other borders had existed only as administrative markers and required boundary delimitation and demarcation once the Soviet Union collapsed.
First came borders with the Baltic states. Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia needed these borders more than Belarus did due to their aspirationsto join the EU. Belarus's border with Latvia was by far the easiest to establish, in part because it is the shortest of all Belarusian borders. In that case, both countries simply revived the pre-1940 Latvian border with Soviet Belarus and Poland. The delimitation of the Latvia-Belarus border was completed in 1994 and its demarcation in 2006.
Belarus's border with Lithuania was a harder case, and some disputes emerged. First, Belarusian Foreign Minister Piatro Krauchanka made an ambiguous statement interpreted by some, including the New York Times, as a claim to Lithuanian capital and adjoining areas. Later, negotiations suffered from disputes concerning some border railway facilities. Nevertheless, the delimitation was successfully completed in 1995, and the demarcation in 2006.
Russia and the EU Work toward the same Goal
The European Union helped to establish the new borders between Belarus and the Baltic states. Belarus's boundary demarcation with Lithuania and Latvia cost $13.5m, and the EU's TACIS Programme provided a third of that sum.
The money was put to good use. In June, talking on the Belarusian ONT TV channel Maira Mora, the Head of EU Delegation to Belarus, said
The Belarusian border with the EU is one of the safest, best and strongest of the EU's borders. […] If we compare the rates of illegal migration, [whereas] in many other border areas more than 50,000 such cases happen, a mere 1,700 occur at the Belarusian border with the EU.
Maira Mora hailed this as an achievement by Belarusian border guards.
According to a 1995 agreement with Russia, Moscow also began to help Belarus with material and technical supplies for Belarusian border guards, including manufacturing, deployment and repairing arms and equipment. It also shared with Minsk the costs of constructing a border with Lithuania and Latvia – Russia provided almost 80% of the funds.
The borders halted various illicit activities, including the large-scale smuggling of metal, but also limited interaction between citizens of neighbouring countries.
No Money – No Border
The border with Ukraine was next in line. Minsk and Kyiv signed a border agreement in May 1997. However, the border issue became instantly entangled with the problem of Ukraine's indebtedness to Belarus. Minsk demanded the payment on debts from Kyiv, delaying the ratification of the border agreement for thirteen years, until April 2010.
In November 2013, demarcation of the more than 1,000 km long Belarus-Ukrainian border began. It will cost about €10m and will be finished by 2020.
An official of the Belarusian State Border Committee told UNIAN news agency in November 2013 that Belarus and Ukraine hoped for international financial aid to help them demarcate their joint border. “After all, establishing clear boundaries and maintaining control and order on them mean [making] direct investments into the security of the European Union.”
In June, the EU Delegation to Belarus announced that soon Minsk would get €3bn to strengthen its border with Ukraine. This is a difficult task as the border with Ukraine is extremely porous. The EU probably would have given the money regardless of developments in Eastern Ukraine this summer.
Importantly, controlling the Belarus-Ukrainian border will prevent the movement of militants and weapons between Russia and Ukraine via Belarus. Suppressing such activities serves Minsk's own interests.
Is There a Border with Russia?
The border with Russia is a different story. In 1994-95, Belarus and Russia signed three major agreements on border security. Both countries are obliged to guard their external borders and keep each other's border security interests in mind. This means that Belarusian border guards ensure the security of the Russian state border by guarding Belarusian state borders with Poland, Lithuania and Latvia, and vice versa.
After this agreement came into effect in May 1995, Belarusians stopped controlling the border with Russia. The delimitation of the Russia-Belarus border never took place. Russian border guards, however, sometimes conduct passport control on Russian-Belarusian border.
They have good reasons to do so. After all, a Belarusian visa – and even a residence permit – does not allow its holder to enter Russia. Yet because the border is largely open, foreiners who have arrived to Belarus can easily travel to Russia.
Some countries (like Georgia) have no visa requirements with Belarus, yet have to obtain a visa to travel to Russia, which creates an opportunity to misuse the open Russia-Belarus border.
Even though Minsk is unlikely to treat the Russia-Belarus border with the same attention as its borders with Poland or the Baltic states, the recent decision to increase border control is nevertheless an important one. Lukashenka has always treated the borderless regime with Russia as a personal achievement. Therefore, his move to increase border control reflects serious concerns about the recent regional developments.
Whatever the reasons, Belarus is an independent country that needs borders. As the instability in the neighbourhood increases, securing state borders is becoming of vital importance.
The EU monetary contributions toward Belarus's boder management can help Belarusians maintain the security of the Belarusian state. As Ukraine's example shows, the absence of a functioning state and porous borders can lead to serious problems.