Belarus Security Update – 19 June – 25 June 2023
BLUF: The posture of the Belarusian Armed Forces remained unchanged last week. No additional information appeared about the deployment of nuclear weapons to Belarus. Minsk’s involvement in negotiations between the President of Russia and the Head of the Wagner PMC dominated the infosphere during the past few days.
Over the past seven days, the Belarusian Armed Forces started a few noteworthy training drills. Although, their general training activity remained quite average. Due to the several graduations of military academies (and faculties), dozens of new officers reinforced the army. An uptick in the activity of the Russian Armed Forces was also observed. Still, it did not herald any changes in the presence or operations of Russian units to deployed in Belarus.
From a political perspective, the most important developments occurred on Tuesday and Saturday.
On Tuesday, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko met with foreign ministers of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) to discuss the current military-political situation and the priorities of the Belarusian chairmanship in the organisation. The meeting involved six CSTO ministers and the Secretary General of the organisation, Imangali Tasmagambetov (Kazakhstan).
During the event held in Minsk, Lukashenko pointed out the successful settlement of crises appearing in the CSTO responsibility areas (he mentioned Armenia, Tajikistan and Kirgizstan) and noted that Belarus could support any measures to restore and strengthen trust between organisation members. He added that the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan should be settled before Western countries get involved in negotiations. In his view, western involvement would seriously deteriorate and complicate peace negotiations. In this context, Lukashenko brought Georgia as an example of a state that, after “being full of Western promises”, decided to return to regional cooperation.
Later, Lukashenko pointed out that the CSTO was a military-political block with a creative and unifying agenda with no belligerent intentions. According to him, the West is full of “aggressive hysteria”, which was aimed against Belarus (and Russia) and “drowns out the voices of wisdom and reason”. The Belarusian leader highlighted the shared history of the organisation’s member states and once more emphasised the necessity of deeper cooperation going forward. Lastly, Lukashenko noticed the necessity of the increasing informational-analytical potential of the CSTO, especially now that member states are “in the combat zone of informational operations”.
The second event occurred on Saturday when Alexander Lukashenko participated in the negotiations between the leadership of Russia and the Wagner PMC owner, Yevgeny Prigozhin.
In the morning hours, Lukashenko had their first phone conversation with his Russian counterpart. Officially, Vladimir Putin informed the Belarusian leader about the current situation in Russia. However, the Belarusian Hajun project claimed that during the call, Putin may have requested the deployment of CSTO forces to stabilise the situation. However, we find this claim to be highly unlikely.
After that, the Belarusian President held two meetings with security and military officials. As the presidential press service informed later, the negotiation lasted the whole day and resulted in an agreement to avoid a “bloody massacre” on the Russian territory. Ultimately, Prigozhin accepted Lukashenko’s offer and stopped the Wagner subunits’ movement towards Moscow. In return, Prigozhin received security guarantees for himself and his “fighters” and agreed to leave for Belarus. Consequently, the Belarusian leader had one more phone call with Vladimir Putin to inform him about the results of the talks.
During the negotiations, the Belarusian State Security Council expressed its support for Russian government forces. According to the statement, Belarus fully shared Russian goals and objectives and called for the voice of reason among the parties involved. The statement said that any internal conflict in military and political leadership was a “gift” to the collective West.
The Wagner mutiny also “activated” representatives of the Belarusian opposition. The leader of the opposition government, Svetlana Tsikhanouskaya, called representatives of the Belarusian military-political leadership to expel Russian troops from the country and close the border with Russia to protect their national interests. She added that Belarusians should not choose between Putin or Prigozhin but focus on their nation and its needs.
A Member of the Tsihanouska’s government (res.) Col. Valery Sakhashchik also called the Belarusian military to jointly resists Russian forces deployed in Belarus. Sakhashchik noted that servicemen should put aside their doubts and questions because such an opportunity might not happen again.
Notably, Belarusian activist Vadim Prokopyev informed that a member of Lukashenko’s circle would change sides. This, in turn, would signal the Belarusian citizens to start taking “opposition measures”.
Comment: Let’s start with Prigozhin. As of the time of writing (Monday, 26JUN), we do not know where he is or whether he will really end up in Belarus. If he does, we do not currently assess that he would build up forces to attack Ukraine from Belarus, as was discussed in social media and elsewhere. Lukashenko’s involvement in staving off the crisis is undoubtedly his success. However, there are still too many questions than answers about what really occurred on Friday-Saturday and what impact this will have on Russia and Belarus. Secondly, we want to caution everyone who takes what the Belarusian opposition says at face value. They have a long history of making bombastic and highly exaggerated claims about the Lukashenko regime and the situation in the country. Their access to the people in power in Belarus is highly likely very limited.
Regarding the issue of nuclear weapons deployment, on Saturday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stressed that nuclear weapons (which would be) deployed in Belarus would remain under Russian control “in line with international obligations.”
Lavrov’s statement did not confirm recent Putin’s remarks that the deployment process was ongoing. Indeed, the Head of the Ukrainian Military Intelligence, Maj. Gen. Kyrylo Budanov denied on Wednesday that Moscow deployed nuclear weapons to Belarus, but he added that preparations of storage facilities were ongoing.
The Belarusian State Security Council Secretary, Lt. Gen. Alexander Volfovich, also commented on this issue. He claimed there are no grounds to say that deployment would threaten other countries because 150 nuclear bombs are currently stored in Europe. Volfovich noted that Belarus and Russia were only involved in strategic deterrence measures in contrast to the United States, which had conducted an audit of warheads stored on the continent last year.
Last week, probably around 500 lieutenants reinforced the Belarusian Armed Forces. At least 419 lieutenants graduated from the Belarusian Military Academy on Saturday. Similar ceremonies were held at the Belarusian State University of Informatics and Radioeletronics, Belarusian State University (both located in Minsk) and the Military Faculty of the Grodno State University.
A day earlier, 151 officers graduated from the General Staff Faculty of the Belarusian Military Academy. This refers to 137 officers of the operational-tactical level and 14 officers of the operational-strategic level.
On Tuesday, at least nine officers were promoted to the colonel rank. Most Belarusian high-rank officers participated in the official ceremony, including the Minister of Defence (Lt. Gen. Viktor Khrenin) and Chief of General Staff (Maj. Gen. Viktor Gulevich). During the event, several servicemen were awarded medals (‘For Impeccable Service’ and ‘For Distinction in Military Service’). The Commander of the Belarusian Air Force and Air Defence Forces, Col. Andrey Lukyanovich, was one of them.
Also on Tuesday, the Belarusian Hajun project reported the construction of a defensive line in Belarus. Work was ongoing near Saki village, located in the vicinity of the Western Belarusian border (less than 30 kilometres from Poland):
On Tuesday, the Head of the Main Ideological Work Department, Maj. Gen. Leonid Kasinsky noted that Belarus would not attack any country, but he stressed he was unsure about neighbouring states attacking Belarus. He added that Poland was training fighters seeking to conduct a coup in Belarus. It remains to be seen whether Minsk will start to erect additional fortifications with NATO countries.
Speaking about the People’s Militia, he stressed that the Belarusian society initiated the creation of the formation. He claimed that the Belarusian MoD had received dozens of requests from people who wanted to “protect their homeland” after the start of the Russo-Ukrainian conflict. Many of them did not serve or were already out of the military reserve, and because of that, the MoD decided to create such an organisation and use the potential of Belarusian citizens who would normally be excluded from military service.
Two drills conducted last week were noteworthy.
Last week, two training drills can be considered most noteworthy.
On Wednesday, the Belarusian MoD informed about the start of the mobilisation exercise of the Minsk oblast military commissariats. Officially, the exercise has an annual character and is meant to assess the degree of readiness of local executive bodies, military commissariats, and government agencies. Practical actions will last until 30JUN and include the induction of reserve personnel into the service and vehicles from the national economy and the use of additional infrastructure facilities.
The second exercise drill took place between Tuesday and Friday and involved presumably all subunits of the 116th Assault Aviation Base. On Wednesday, strike aviation groups (Su-25 and Yak-130 aircraft) practised SEAD (suppression of enemy air defences) and CAS (close air support) missions at the Ruzhany Training Ground. A day later, L-39s were also involved in conducting reconnaissance missions. Most likely, a Russian IL-22VPU (C2 aircraft) also took part in the exercise.
On Wednesday, the 115th Air Defence Regiment and the 2284th Radiotechnical Battalion (8th Radiotechnical Brigade) underwent air defence drills. S-300 subunits of the first unit trained at the Brestsky Training Ground and practised redeployments and the organisation of the launcher’s security against enemy reconnaissance groups and UAVs. The details of the 2284th Radiotechnical Battalion’s drills were not publicised. On Thursday, unspecified reconnaissance subunit(s) of the 38th Air Assault Brigade underwent classes related to overcoming water obstacles.
Throughout the week, several formations held 50-kilometre training marches summarising the training process of military drivers. Such drills took place on Tuesday (in the 38th Air Assault Brigade) and on Friday (in the 103rd Airborne Brigade, 19th Mechanised Brigade and 56th Communications Regiment).
Last week, the were several noteworthy movements of Belarusian military equipment:
- A single Kamaz, along with five BMPs (most likely 6th Mechanised Brigade), were moving in Grodno;
- A single BM-27 and S-300 launchers were moving from Slutsk towards Minsk;
- About nine Ural trucks were moving in Minsk;
- Nine Ural trucks with a covered Kamaz truck and a UAZ-396 were moving in Minsk;
- A single BUK-MB3 launcher was moving in Minsk;
- At least 15 various trucks with Tigr vehicles were moving near Privolnyy;
- A single BM-21A Belgrad MLRS was moving towards Minsk from Barysaw;
- A column of 15 various vehicles (including two Ural trucks) was moving in Kolodischi;
- Two S-300 launchers were moving between Dobrush and Zyabrovka;
- A column of six vehicles, including two Tigers, as well as BMPs and BTRs, was moving towards Minsk from Khatezhino;
Russian military activity in Belarus
Last week, the Russian activity mainly occurred in the Belarusian airspace. About ten Russian aircraft arrived in Belarus. Notably, five of them (Il-76s) arrived only on Saturday.
Russian Mi-8 helicopters continued their frequent flights near Belarusian training grounds on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday.
On Thursday, the Machulischy Air Base hosted training flights of several Russian Su-30SM fighters.
A Russian Mi-24 fell near the village of Lesnaya. According to the Belarusian MoD, the crew members suffered injuries.