Belarus Security Update – 10 July – 16 July 2023

Let’s start with a quick note. I spent the entire last week in Ukraine with several colleagues. It undoubtedly was the most productive field study trip since we started going to Ukraine in October. We visited troops near Orikhiv and Bakhmut but also had some high-profile meetings in Kyiv. The next UCM update will feature my impressions from this trip.
Konrad Muzyka

BLUF: Last week, the posture of the Belarusian Armed Forces remained unchanged. The Belarusian military-political leadership representatives did not present almost any activity in the military sphere. Late in the week, Wagner PMC’s head, Yevgeny Prigozhin reportedly appeared in Belarus. Some of his forces started training Belarusian units as more units arrived in the country.

Executive summary

Over the past seven days, the general activity of Belarusian military representatives remained low. The military formations presented a slightly heightened training tempo – mainly due to the comprehensive exercise of communication troops and reserve troops drills. Notably, the Belarusian Armed Forces elements conducted joint training classes with the Wagner personnel mercenaries.

Political developments

Last week, Belarusian political representatives did not make noteworthy statements about the political-military situation in Belarus or the region. Their presence in the media was also very limited, likely due to the holiday season.

The Head of the Wagner PMC, Yevgeny Prigozhin, probably arrived in Belarus on Tuesday. His Embraer Legacy 600 (RA-02795) landed at Machulischy Air Base in the evening. According to the Belarusian Hajun team, Prigozhin shortly after departed towards the well-known tent camp near Osipovichi using the Mi-8 helicopter (escorted by Mi-24) of the Belarusian Armed Forces.

This information corresponds with unofficial data linked to his photo taken in the camp.

According to Hajun, the metadata of the original photo suggested that it was taken at 12JUL in the morning hours. This data suggests that Prigozhin spent a night in the camp. Prigozhin’s aircraft departed from Machulischy Air Base about 21 hours after his arrival. It is thus possible that Prigozhin conducted some kind of personal inspection before the arrival of his troops reported a few days later. Alternatively, this could have been a PR event. The fact that his aircraft left Belarus after a day also indicates that  Prigozhin left Belarus, most likely for Russia.

On Friday, the Belarusian MoD said it had developed a cooperation roadmap with Wagner forces. According to the press statement, the prepared document regulates the preparation and “transfer of the mercenary’s experience” to the various units of the Belarusian Armed Forces. The MoD release was scant, but it promised to deliver more information about planned MoD-Wagner cooperation in the near future.

Shortly after, the Belarusian military television, VoenTV, published footage of the Territorial Defence Forces (TDF) service members training jointly with Wagner mercenaries.
Most servicemen came from the Salihorsk region, where the TDF inspection was ongoing last week at the 8th NBC Protection Brigade’s base in Stare Dorohi (40 km southwest of Tsel). According to the Head of the Territorial Defence Forces Command Department, Col. Maksim Paevskiy, the camp’s location in Tsel is optimal because it allows to conduct exercises and secure the needs of the called-up service members.

As such, Belarusian officials tried to reaffirm that the camp in Tsel was not to house Wagner, but it appeared to fulfil the TDF training needs. But, the TDF inspection in the Salihorsk region engaged about 150 service members, while the camp in Tsel could house up to 8,000 personnel.

Returning to the Wagner PMC, at least 60 vehicles arrived in Belarus on Saturday. The convoy mainly included pick-ups, trucks, and light vehicles that entered Belarus from the Krichev area and moved through Rogachev and Bobruisk towards their camp near Osipovichi. The Belarusian Traffic Police accompanied vehicles, which mainly used registration plates of Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics.

Comment: Videos confirm that deployment of the Wagner PMC subunits occurred. It also corresponds with the intensification of the Belarusian informational activity – official sources are focused on explaining the advantages of such deployment and negating that the tent camp was explicitly built for Wagner units, although the true scale of the deployment still needs to be clarified. For the moment, Russian mercenaries will likely train the Belarusian Armed Forces and TDF components. Last week, Polish media raised concerns about the deployment of Wagner units near the border between the two states, which may translate into the intensification of “hybrid threats” from Belarus. We currently assess the likelihood of such activities by Wagner as small, but undoubtedly, training of Belarusian personnel in small unit tactics should have a positive impact on the ability of platoon-sized formations to fulfil infantry tasks.

Military developments

Last week, the Belarusian Armed Forces received both new officers senior officers and new military equipment.

On Friday, the Chief of Belarusian General Staff, Maj. Gen. Viktor Gulevich and Deputy Minister of Defence, Maj. Gen. Andrey Zhuk promoted five lieutenant colonels to the colonel rank. Officials also presented unspecified state awards to a single officer.

Two days earlier, Brest State Technical University Military Faculty cadets started their military practice in unspecified military formation(s). The exact details currently remain unclear. However, it most likely refers to 30-50 students who, after their training, will take a military oath and become reserve officers.

On Thursday, the 288th Reserve Automobile Base inducted new military equipment. It refers to more than 30 brand-new MAZ-531605 trucks. The Belarusian Armed Forces have received more than 100 MAZ vehicles since the beginning of 2023.

Last week, the 72nd Joint Training Center Telegram channel published photos of a Belarusian Special Operation Forces soldier involved in the drills on the use of a BM-21 Grad MLR system (it was held within the 3rd School for Training Specialists of Tank and Artillery Units). His affiliation is clear, but the soldier wore a tyelnashka (horizontally striped undershirt) reserved for the personnel of SOF and Airborne troops in the post-Soviet states.

The abovementioned drill can indicate that Belarusian SOF might induct mentioned artillery assets into their formations. Considering that Belarusian Armed Forces actively use the experiences of their Russian counterparts from the Russo-Ukrainian war (Russian VDV inducted TOS-1 and possibly BM-21 systems) and are also strengthening their own SOF component (SOF recently received its own EW subunit), it is indeed possible that the Belarusian SOF would also soon undergo similar reforms.

Military exercises

Last week, the Belarusian servicemen participated in a single notable training. However, several “smaller” training events also occurred. At least two military formations held training classes for Belarusian reservists.

The most important training event last week was the Belarusian Signal Corps drill. It lasted between 10JUL and 14JUL and presumably engaged most communications formations, units and subunits responsible for creating and maintaining communication systems. Electronic warfare assets participated in the exercise, which imitated a mock enemy and conducted reconnaissance and jamming missions. The Chief of Communications, Col. Vadim Romaniv, supervised training actions.

Interestingly, the 103rd Airborne and 5th Spetsnaz Brigades were also involved in the drill. On Wednesday, signal subunits of the latter worked out the issues of deployment and camouflage of the communication (command) vehicles and performing 24h combat posts.

On Thursday, the Chief of Belarusian General Staff visited the 227th Combined Arms Training Ground, where soldiers of the communications formations demonstrated the use of modern communication systems and “innovative approaches” to organisation of communications.

The 103rd Airborne Brigade also stand out with its training activity. On Wednesday, more than 90 soldiers conducted parachute jumps into the water. They jumped out from the Mi-8MTV5 helicopter (at 500 meters) directly to the Losvido Lake, near the brigade’s home garrison and training ground.

Another parachute jump occurred two days later when more than 130 formations’ servicemen jumped out at 800 meters. Jumps involved predominantly brigade’s contract service members. Nevertheless, about 50 conscripts made their first jumps, most likely over the Losvido Training Ground. During the drills,  soldiers tested a new type of Belarusian-made airborne backpack.

Some 103rd Airborne Brigade’s personnel also participated in a special-tactical exercise related to forest fighting on Thursday.

At the same time, the mechanised subunit (presumably platoon-sized) of the 6th Mechanised Brigade took part in a “complex tactical exercise with live ammo firing”.

The drills occurred at the Gozhsky Training Ground, where BMP-2 squads blocked and destroyed the forces of the mock enemy. Soldiers also trained in the use of grenades dropped by UAVs. Two days later, tank crews of the same formation participated in the T-72 driving classes conducted under challenging conditions. Servicemen underwent a six-kilometre march, overcoming various obstacles like minefields, anti-tank moats, track bridge models and elevated platforms.

Subsequently, personnel of the 11th Mechanised Brigade’s unspecified mechanised battalion underwent tactical training classes linked to engineering training. During their course, soldiers prepared platoon-level strongholds based on the experiences of the Russo-Ukrainian conflict.

On Wednesday, servicemen of the Krasny Dvor military camp (Brest garrison) participated in an instructional-methodological lesson linked to the organisation of the transfer of weapons and military equipment to the seasonal modes of operation and their transfers to storage.

Two days later, the 51st Artillery Brigade hosted a training gathering of officers on using artillery reconnaissance and fire control software. The Deputy Chief of General Staff for Scientific Work, Col. Viktor Tumar, personally led the event.

Between Tuesday and Wednesday, six teams of the Belarusian SOF participated in the military-applied all-around championship held at the  Brestsky Training Ground.

Regarding reserve training, practical actions were organised at the 19th Mechanised and 127th Communications Brigades’ bases. In the first instance, 24 reservists from VitebskMinsk and Mogilev oblasts were involved in unspecified drills. The latter hosts a 24-day-long training (4JUL-28JUL) for about eight reservists that will become senior engineers and deputy commanders of stationary communication nodes.

Last week, the following movements of the Belarusian Armed Forces might be considered noteworthy:

Unofficial sources reported the movement of two military echelons. The first, with about 20 vehicles (BTRs, trucks, OSA anti-air systems), was observed in Bobruisk on Wednesday. It was either loaded or unloaded. The second one appeared a day later at Domanovo Railway Station. It included two R-145M Chayka command vehicles, a single R-142 command vehicle, five OSA anti-air launchers and more than ten various trucks with additional equipment that were unloaded in the city.

Russian military activity in Belarus

Last week, the Belarusian MoD officially confirmed Russian forces’ rotation in Belarus.
According to an official press statement, units of the Union State grouping finished their training and coordination measures. This rotation takes place more than a month after the previous one.

Over the past seven days, the general activity of the Russian forces remained low. On Wednesday and Thursday, two transport aircraft arrived in Belarus. It refers to two IL-76s (RA-78835 and RF-92948). Besides, the Russian Mi-8 helicopter conducted a single training flight on Tuesday.

On Monday, a column of 10 covered Russian Kamaz trucks (including fuel trucks and trailers) was moving from Samokhvalovichi towards Krupki (through Barysaw).

Satellite imagery analysis

116th Guards Assault Aviation Base, Lida, Belarus

Airbus imagery acquired 04JUL shows 3 x Su-30s and 2 x MIG-29s during preparation for flight on the apron and seven burned traces after engine tests.

In addition, there are 3 x Su-30s, 6 x Su-25s, and 2 x MIG-29s in dispersed hard standings with revetments. The maintenance area holds 1 x Su-30, 1 x Su-25, and 2 x YAK-130.

Increased traffic and new weapon deliveries have not been noticed in the aviation armament warehouse area.