The Ukrainian Scenario is Being Tested in Belarus – Belarus Security Digest
The Belarusian authorities are preparing to counter by military means any possible attempts to destabilise the situation in Belarus under the scenario deployed in Eastern Ukraine.
The Belarusian Ministry of Interior plans to make the fight against drug trafficking more efficient and initiate tougher punishments for drug dealers.
The Belarusian authorities seek to use the crisis in Ukraine to elevate their own importance as the Kremlin's partner… and to put a little money in the bank while they are at it. Will they succeed?
The CSTO views the drug flow coming out of Afghanistan the most serious challenge facing it.
Minsk does not want to spend any money on purchasing new combat aircraft and has instead decided to modernise its Soviet heritage aviation.
Corruption Remains One of the Major National Security Threats
On 22 April 2014, Alexander Lukashenka made his annual address to the National Assembly. He paid the utmost attention to the problem of corruption. Lukashenka separately went into the details of abuse of power among judges, the KGB (the initiation of criminal proceedings against a number of top officials from the Department of the KGB in the Homiel region), law-enforcement officials (Interior Ministry, Investigative Committee, customs and border agencies).
This part of his address was not only the longest but also the most emotionally charged. Obviously, the issue of corruption in public administration and law-enforcement agencies is of considerable concer to Lukashenka. It is especially true in the light of the events in Ukraine, a point that he stressed earlier on. He said that corruption and abuse remained the "birthmarks" of law-enforcement and executive bodies. This may be one of the harshest wordings he has ever employed.
The time that Lukashenka dedicated to the problem of corruption during his address on 22 April 2014 suggests that the situation has become intolerable. Moreover, it also signals that the law-enforcement agencies can no longer be regarded as a wholesome part of the public administration system.
The Ukrainian Scenario is Being Tested in Belarus
For the moment there are only during drills. A joint exercise with the 120th guards motorised brigade and internal troops of the Interior Ministry recently took place. During the drill its participants worked out coordinated tactics to accomplish special tasks in urban areas.
One of the goals of the exercise was to develop the most appropriate approach when using the nation's military units, and establishing the technical and logistical support needed in preparation for conducting special military operations. The latter essentially included counter-insurgency and anti-sabotage manoeuvres, suppressing armed insurgencies or similar activities using their own forces against that of the enemy.
They also worked out plans to hold joint street patrols and maintaining curfew by military personnel and internal troops. The participants were trained in carrying out their respective duties at checkpoints and inspecting incoming transports as well as countering mass riots with joint actions.
It is worth noting that during the exercise the military personnel worked out their actions in reaction to the occupation of administrative buildings by a group of aggressively minded people who earlier tried to hold an unauthorised rally in a public square.
Drugs Remain in the Spotlight
The Ministry of Internal Affairs insists on setting up an interagency anti-drug commission, which will allow for the monitoring and anti-trafficking measures for new psychoactive substances within days after their initial seizure. The interagency commission is being established with three agencies: the State Committee of Forensic Examinations, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Ministry of Health.
This commission can prohibit, by an official decision that it makes, any substance that is determined to have a psychoactive effect on a potential user and is dangerous for their health. The Ministry of Internal Affairs also initiated new legislation in this vein.
They proposed to toughen the penalties associated with drug distribution by punishing the production of psychoactive substances in drug laboratories as well as the sale of narcotic drugs, psychotropic substances and their analogues to minors by imprisonment of up to 13 years. Amendments to Decree No. 60 "On measures to improve the use of the national segment of Internet", which will allow for prohibiting by law visits to web sites that were found to have sold drugs are also under consideration.
It is thought that it will automatically deny at least 90% of distributors the possibility of selling narcotic substances online. In the long term, there are plans to establish the single centralised register of drug users and set up the process of obtaining information about drug addicts from healthcare institutions.
Greed or Fear?
Analysing the events in April, we can say that the Belarusian authorities are trying to milk the most out of the confrontation between Russia and Ukraine. Considering the context of the occupation of Crimea, the introduction of an embargo on military and technical cooperation with Russia is a matter of principle for Kyiv. Public opinion demands it. However, the Ukrainian military and industrial complex needs money – much of which comes from Russia.
If things should progress along this line of thought, Minsk is ready to jump into the game by offering itself as an assembly plant for the Ukrainian defence industry. The Belarusian authorities are trying to act as an intermediary for military equipment supplies, and idea which is of interest to Russian customers. In other words, the idea is to set up assembly and production plans in Belarus of the products that would be essentially Ukrainian, but with the label would "made in Belarus" for further sale to Russia. It looks like so far Moscow and Kyiv have no objections to this option.
On 2 April 2014, Lukashenka set an agenda to organise the manufacturing of airplanes and helicopters in Belarus in the production facilities of JSC Orsha Aircraft Repair Plant, which is owned by the Ukrainian helicopter corporation Motor Sic". A statement about the need to enhance cooperation with Ukraine in the military and industrial sphere in general followed. According to Lukashenka, "the time [for this] is right". And they need to seize this opportunity to set up the manufacture of new products, including ones headed for the Russian market.
loud statements about the indestructible military and political union with Russia are aimed one goal – to increase the importance of Belarus as the Kremlin's partner Read more
In general, intermediary's (Belarus) services in helping to supply products from the Ukrainian military and industrial complex to Russia as well as recurrent loud statements about the indestructible military and political union with Russia are aimed one goal – to increase the importance of Belarus as the Kremlin's partner. And this is not only about Minsk's hope to obtain additional financial and economic benefits from Moscow. The first reason for this behaviour is the clear threat of Russia's continued aggressive actions towards other post-Soviet countries.
The CSTO Fears Threats from Afghanistan
The CSTO is preparing for the end of the ISAF mission in Afghanistan. In connection with this, the Organisation has identified four potential risks:
– risks of destabilisation of the situation in Afghanistan;
– the creation of bases for various armed extremist groups and centres of ideological influences in Central Asian countries and, subsequently, a rising number Islamists in these countries;
– the creation of training centres for militants;
– an expansion in drug trafficking in the territory of CIS countries.
The risk of a major invasion from Afghanistan is not regarded as probable. However, local attempts at penetration by armed groups into Tajikistan are a real threat, and such attacks have already been recorded. More alarmingly, their number is growing rapidly. The objectives of trespassers are different: political and solely criminal, related to drug trafficking.
The drug trade remains a priority for the CSTO. This is due to the fact that Russia is currently the major consumer of heroin in the world: the country has 1.7 million drug addicts, whose number increases annually by around 80 thousand people, with roughly 30 thousand people dying every year from overdoses. With these facts in consideration, the Centre of Special Anti-Drug Operation is being established within the CSTO, which will focus on coordinating special operations against the Afghan drug mafia.
Modernisation of Fighters of the National Air Force Begins
Currently, the beginning of a project of modernisation for 10 fighters MiG-29 has been confirmed. It will affect the systems of control, their aiming and tracking systems and their armaments. The airplanes will improve their ability to hit ground targets. The modernisation of the heavy Su-27 is planned to happen the end of the first stage of the modernisation project. However, no specifics are available yet. The question of modernisation of the assault fighters Su-25 also remains open; it was reported in January this year, but nothing further appears to have occurred.
The modernisation of the domestic fighters MiG-29 may also have an economic effect by spurring the interest of foreign customers. Talks are now under way with a foreign country about the modernisation of the MiG-29. The contract may be signed this year; the 558th Aircraft Repair Plant in Baranavichy will be responsible for the work.
Andrei is the head of “Belarus Security Blog” analytical project.
Belarus Opens New Embassies, Struggles to Remain Neutral on Ukraine – Foreign Policy Digest
Despite the need to please Russia during the talks on the Eurasian Union, Belarus managed to avoid criticising the Ukrainian authorities. Minsk remains a strong supporter of Ukraine's unity and stability.
Belarus pursued its policy of gradual engagement with the EU through its Central European members. Meanwhile, the country is actively looking for new export markets, mostly in Asia and Latin America. Two new embassies, in Mongolia and Ecuador, will open soon.
Struggling to Maintain Neutrality on Ukraine
Belarus has stood by its policy of neutrality in the conflict between Ukraine and Russia. However, during the last two weeks it has largely avoided any overt expression of sympathy and solidarity with the Ukrainian government.
Minsk has been sure to carefully word all of its official statements.
The Foreign Ministry expressed its "deep concern and anxiety" over the developments in Ukraine. It appealed to all political forces "to immediately stop the bloodshed and to take real steps towards building national dialogue". The ministry also urged Belarusian citizens to avoid visiting Ukraine and getting involved in political events there.
On several occasions, Alexander Lukashenka criticised the West's conduct in the Ukrainian crisis. He expressed his displeasure with the "absolutely inadequate response by our so-called Western partners" to the tragedy in Odessa.
The Belarusian president also accused them of escalating tension by imposing economic sanctions on Russia. Lukashenka capitalised on this situation by trying to sway Russia to buy more from Belarus.
There is one explanation for this certain tilt in balance towards Russia. Belarus could not afford alienating Russia in the midst of decisive talks on the Eurasian Union integration project. However, Minsk has remained faithful to its public position on the legitimacy of the Ukrainian authorities and the inadmissibility of the federalisation of Ukraine.
Eastern Partnership through Central Europe
Belarus skipped the Eastern Partnership summit held on 24 and 25 April in Prague. Foreign Minister Uladzimir Makej touched on this topic briefly in his interview to the Czech daily Lidové Noviny. According to him, the Czech government failed to "invite those people who formulate and make policy decisions". For his part, Commissioner Štefan Füle stressed at the summit that the EU remained committed to its stated position on Belarus.
However, only a few days later Belarus attended an informal meeting of the Visegrád Group and Eastern Partnership countries in Budapest. Deputy Foreign Minister Alena Kupchyna stressed there the need to "rethink and streamline the initiative … in view of new challenges and development of the situation in the region".
Kupchyna claimed that Belarus' western partners and other EaP members supported this approach. It remains to be seen what practical steps will be taken to implement this rather general intention.
Alena Kupchyna's visit to Budapest followed up on a series of steps to warm relations between Belarus and Central European countries. Belarus may find it easier to develop dialogue with the Visegrád Four than with Old Europe. This informal gathering was also a perfect opportunity for Kupchyna to talk to Štefan Füle and her Hungarian counterparts.
As for the Eastern Partnership per se, Belarus' ambitions remain quite modest. Most EaP members have embarked upon the integration path with the EU. Belarus and Azerbaijan have mostly focused on visa issues.
Ambassadors as Potential Idlers
The president of Belarus appointed three new ambassadors. They are all career diplomats. Two of them, Stanislau Chepurnoj and Ihar Palujan, will open new Belarusian embassies in two countries, Mongolia and Ecuador. Mikalaj Barysievich, who once served as Lukashenka's spokesman, will head the Belarusian mission in the Netherlands.
At the last moment, Lukashenka appeared to be seized with doubts about the need for opening new missions abroad: "We'd better not be hasty and appoint ambassadors to where they will have nothing to do". He stressed the absolute priority of trade promotion in their ambassadorial work. On this point, Mongolia and Ecuador might have not looked like serious partners to him.
Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei had to defend his choice for the new diplomatic outposts. However, he admitted that his ministry "did not always take into consideration all possible options when appointing some heads of missions".
Today, Belarus has a diplomatic presence in over 50 countries. The lion's share of its diplomatic missions are in post-Soviet states and former Eastern bloc countries. Georgia is here the most notable exception.
The priority now is to expand Belarus' presence in Asia and Latin America. However, the latter, together with Africa, remains largely neglected by Belarus
Belarus is surprisingly absent from such economic strongholds and regional powers as Spain, Norway, Mexico, Chile, Saudi Arabia, Angola, Singapore and Malaysia. However, a Belarusian mission will appear this year in Australia, one of the world's wealthiest and largest countries.
High-level Visitors in Minsk
Minsk received several high-level guests in late April and early May. Besides the leaders of Russia and Kazakhstan who came to work on their joint integration project, the list of visitors included prime minister of Cambodia, speaker of the parliament of Laos and the foreign ministers of Armenia, Mozambique and Venezuela.
Development of trade and economic relations remained the main topic of all discussions. Cooperation with Southeast Asia deserves a special mention. The high-level visitors from this region came to Minsk only a few weeks after Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei visited Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. Belarus is eager to expand trade relations with these fast-growing economies, which have rather poor human rights records.
Expanding Presence in UN Bodies
Belarus was elected by consensus to several subsidiary bodies of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). The list includes the Commission on Population and Development, the UNICEF's Executive Board, the Committee for Programme and Coordination, the Governing Council of UN-Habitat, and the UNHCR's Executive Committee.
The Belarusian mission to the UN managed to negotiate a trade-off list of candidacies with other members of the Eastern European Group and avoid a competitive election. This unofficial voting bloc at the UN consists of 23 post-Soviet countries of Eastern Europe and the Caucasus. The fact that Belarus currently holds one of the Group's six seats in ECOSOC also helps in the election matters.
Countries often exchange voting support and offer political or economic favours to get their candidature to the most important UN bodies supported by other countries. Then, human rights or political concerns often fall by the wayside. The visit of Jim Bolder, former prime minister of New Zealand, to Belarus can provide a good illustration here. Mr Bolder came as a special envoy to lobby his country's candidature to the UN Security Council.