Belarus Security Update – 21 August – 27 August 2023
Last week, no changes in the posture of the Belarusian Armed Forces took place.
No noteworthy political developments took place in Belarus last week.
Belarusian authorities adopted amendments to the law regulating the induction of civilian vehicles to support armed forces. There also was one personnel change in the leadership of the Belarusian Army. In addition, several new senior officers and dozens of new soldiers were inducted into the Belarusian Armed Forces.
Belarusian military formations maintained a high training tempo. Certain units prepared for the upcoming Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) forces’ drills, which will commence on 1SEP.
The activity of the Russian Armed Forces stayed at a minimal level. The same pertains to Wagner PMC units.
Lukashenko comments on the death of Yevgeny Prigozhin
Like in other countries, information about the death of the Wagner PMC head, Yevgeny Prigozhin (23AUG), dominated the Belarusian infosphere. Although his death probably received more coverage in Belarus due to Wagner’s presence in Belarus and the Belarusian President’s direct involvement in negotiations between Prigozhin and Russian President Vladimir Putin during the former’s mutiny on 23JUN.
Lukashenko commented on the accident two days after Prigozhin’s death (25AUG) when he visited the Belarusian State University. Although the visit was not related to any political-military developments, it included a question panel, during which Lukashenko received several questions on either the current political-military situation or Yevgeny Prigozhin.
When speaking about a potential border closure by Lithuania, Latvia and Poland with Belarus, Lukashenko said that such a move would only negatively affect citizens of these countries because Belarusian people “do not go to Lithuania and Latvia”. The Belarusian economy did need those countries. He added that these countries might execute this measure to stop their citizens from visiting Belarus because such travels allowed them to compare domestic living standards and point out specific imbalances. Lukashenko claimed that Belarus had no claims towards Lithuania, Latvia and Poland and was not interested in attacking their territories. He highlighted that recent bilateral developments with Belarusian neighbours were examples of political “psychosis” that were caused by upcoming elections (“meant to find a common enemy”, which is Belarus). Poland will hold parliamentary elections in mid-October.
Moving to Prigozhin, Lukashenko claimed he wasn’t responsible for protecting the Wagner PMC head. He reminded his talks with Prigozhin and Utkin did not require security guarantees from the Belarusian President. That said, Lukashenko noted that he had offered security only to Wagner mercenaries deployed in Belarus. Belarusian President claimed that upon visiting Zimbabwe in JAN23, he received information about an assassination attempt on Prigozhin and relayed this message to the Russian leadership to thwart the action. He stressed that it was highly unlikely that the Russian President was behind the aircraft accident that killed Prigozhin.
Regarding Wagner forces in Belarus, Lukashenko said that previous agreements were still in force. On Lukashenko’s order, a Belarusian KDB (KGB) representative contacted mercenaries and assured the continuity of existing co-operation. According to Lukashenko, “Wagner PMC lived, live and will live.” Moreover, Belarusian cooperation with this organisation would remain unchanged and proceed according to the earlier plans. The Belarusian President confirmed that a certain number of tents in the Wagner PMC camp in Tsel village had been removed because the number of originally set up tents was too big.
According to Lukashenko, the number of mercenaries deployed in Belarus might vary. Up to 10,000 Wagner PMC members might arrive in the state if necessary. However, it might also decrease if they were needed in other parts of the world. These statements thus indicate that Belarus is the main Wagner’s logistics base to support operations its across the globe.
He noted that Belarus would pay for Wagner services, whose personnel were very disciplined and very highly rated by Belarusian servicemembers. As noted, not only Internal Troops but also members of the Belarusian Armed Forces were actively using mercenaries’ experience in tactical, firing and physical training.
Lastly, the Belarusian President referred to the upcoming CSTO exercises. Practical actions will be carried out on a relatively small scale to avoid “heating up” the current political-military situation around Belarus. Lukashenko once again repeated that Belarus would not attack any country, and the exercises would have a standard character.
On Tuesday (22AUG), the Belarusian President appointed Col. Dmitry Streshinsky as the Head of the Territorial Defence Directorate (Deputy Chief) of the Belarusian General Staff. Streshinsky replaced Maj. Gen. Andrey Matiyevich who was promoted to First Deputy Chief of Belarusian General Staff on 18JUL.
Data on Streshinsky military career are scarce. Since at least MAR20, he headed the Troops Service Department of the Belarusian Armed Forces. Considering the importance of his new position (head of the directorate), we assume that he might be promoted to the major general rank in future.
On Friday (25AUG), personnel of the 15th Air Defence Brigade farewelled the formation commander, Col. Andrey Dolbik. Dolbik has been admitted to the General Staff Faculty of the Belarusian Military Academy, which prepares future Belarusian generals. According to the available data, Lt. Col. Andrey Bobylev will replace Dolbik soon.
Also on Friday (25AUG), a Belarusian MoD delegation led by the Minister of Defence, Lt. Gen. Viktor Khrenin, participated in officers’ promotion in the Central House of Officers. It involved nine Belarusian officers who were promoted to colonel rank.
On Tuesday (22AUG), the 74th Communications Regiment (Grodno Garrison) hosted a military oath ceremony, which saw 20 soldiers inducted to either the 6th Mechanised Brigade or 557th Engineering Brigade or 74th Communications Regiment, or 250th Security and Maintenance Base.
Four days later (26AUG), military oath ceremonies were also organised across Belarusian Universities.
This included the Belarusian Military Academy (97 cadets who will now study in Russia pledged allegiance to the Belarusian people), Belarusian State University of Informatics and Radioelectronics (more than 100 cadets), Belarusian State Medical University presumably 60-100 cadets).
Resolution of the Belarusian MoD about the mobilisation of vehicles
On Thursday, the Belarusian National Legal Internet Portal published a resolution of the Belarusian MoD linked to the vehicles’ induction to the armed forces. The new document was introduced on 3AUG and replaced a previous version adopted in 2009. Despite this, changes to the document were minimal and somewhat technical.
According to the new resolution, Belarusian MoD will be able to mobilise vehicles not only from the state bodies and organisations but also from other institutions. The updated list of the potentially required vehicles included trucks, tractors and quads. Motorcycles with sidecars were removed from the list.
Upcoming CSTO drills
On Thursday (24AUG), the Belarusian MoD provided data on the upcoming CSTO drills held in Belarus.
According to the official statement, the “Combat Brotherhood-2023” exercise would be held between 1SEP and 6SEP and include four joint and special exercises of the collective forces. This refers to the “Interaction-2023” to practice the use of the CSTO forces in simulated crises in the Eastern European region, and special exercises of reconnaissance formations (“Search-2023”), logistics (“Echelon-2023”) and NBC protection (“Barrier-2023”), which would be held in Brest, Grodno and Minsk Oblasts. This most likely refers to the Brestsky, Gozhsky and the 227th Combined Arms Training Grounds.
Almost subsequently, the Belarusian Hajun military monitoring team informed about the first possible arrival of foreign armed forces elements to participate in the drills. According to Hajun’s data, the military echelon with three T-72 tanks, three MT-LBs, and four BTR-60 was spotted in Lyakchovichi. The equipment in question probably belonged to the Kazakhstan Armed Forces.
International Military Cooperation Department’s activities
Between Thursday and Friday (24-25AUG), Belarusian International Military Cooperation Department (IMCD) representatives were particularly active.
Firstly, the Head of the IMCD, Col. Valery Revenko, commented on the recent developments of the Polish Armed Forces.
Revenko noted that Poland continued the build-up of forces by creating new military formations and actively increasing defence spending despite the crisis of existing arms control system. He pointed out that the planned introduction of 300,000-strong armed forces would be a “flagrant violation” of the Final Act of Negotiations on the Number of Personnel of Conventional Armed Forces in Europe signed by Poland. According to the document, the strength of the Polish Armed Forces cannot exceed 234,000 people. The Head of the Belarusian International Military Cooperation Department also highlighted the “silence” of the international organisations – Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), NATO and European Union – noting that Polish actions were an example of the final destruction of the existing international security architecture. He still believed that existing international organisations could become a means “to relieve regional tensions and restore a dialogue between states”.
On the same day, Revenko’s subordinates participated in two international meetings.
Firstly, they met with the Russian Air Attache to Belarus, 1st Rank Capt. Igor Elkin.
The gathering pertained to the implementation of the bilateral military cooperation plan for 2023. The meeting also involved the accreditation of the new Assistant to the Russian Military Attache in Belarus, Maj. Mikhail Gorbach.
Secondly, four IMCD officers accompanied a Vietnamese military topographic service delegation that arrived in Belarus and visited the Military Faculty of the Belarusian State University.
A day later (25AUG), IMCD representatives participated in an official meeting with former German Defence Attache, Col. Andreas Leibner. During the event, parties summarised issues of bilateral military contacts and officially accredited Leibner’s successor – Lt. Col. Stefan Janke.
Subsequently, they also accompanied a military delegation from the Democratic Republic of Congo headed by the Director of the Vice Prime Minister Cabinet, Maj. Gen. Aime Mbiato Konzoli who arrived to visit the Belarusian Military Academy.
Training activities of specialised formations
Last week, the 16th Electronic Warfare Regiment underwent a tactical-special exercise. The drill started on Tuesday (22AUG), when soldiers departed towards a destinated area, where, after camouflaging electronic warfare assets, they began to detect and suppress aircraft of the mock enemy. No further data linked to the exercise was later published.
Also on Tuesday, elements of the 740th Air Defence Regiment continued a field exit to the Domanovo Training Ground. Their exercises could have started as early as 21JUL and included a series of tactical, special and technical drills.
A day earlier (21AUG), about a dozen 103rd Airborne Brigade soldiers conducted parachute jumps. Servicemen jumped out from an An-2 aircraft over the Kukovyachino airfield.
Training activities of artillery formations
Artillery units trained the most over the past week as the drills peaked on Friday (25AUG).
Firstly, the 465th Missile Brigade’s elements conducted fire control classes at the Osipovichi Training Ground. The drill involved Iskander-M and Tochka-U subunits and focused on preparing and conducting missile strikes using conventional and “special” (presumably nuclear) warheads.
Secondly, the 230th Combined Arms Training Ground (Obuz-Lesniovsky) hosted a demonstrative instructor-methodical lesson for the 111th Artillery Brigade’s officers linked to the use of the VOF-64 (3OF39) Krasnopol guided artillery projectiles. During its course, Belarusian artillerymen got acquainted with the characteristics of the ammunition and observed practical firing with a 2A65 gun. According to the 111th Artillery Brigade Commander, Col. Nikolai Kudlasevich, firing engaged soldiers serving under contract, conscripts and reservists which might suggest that the brigade inducted some reserve personnel before the field exit commenced.
Presumably, also on Friday (25AUG), 2S5 subunit(s) of the 111th Artillery Brigade performed independent firing classes.
On Monday (21AUG), the 841st Artillery Group of the 11th Mechanised Brigade started a field exit to conduct a tactical exercise. Drills involved at least one 2S1 battery that departed likely via rail (military echelon with artillery equipment appeared at the Lokomotivnoe Depo Railway Station in Baranovichi on 22AUG). On Friday (25AUG), information about the special training classes of the 841st Artillery Group also appeared on the Belarusian MoD website, but they only mentioned unspecified special training classes.
On Tuesday (22AUG), a BM-21 battery of the 191st Artillery Group (19th Mechanised Brigade) also started its field exit to the Osipovichi Training Ground.
Also, two days later (24AUG), the 227th Combined Arms Training Ground (Barysawsky) hosted the control firing classes of the 310th Artillery Group of the 120th Mechanised Brigade.
Training activities of operational commands
Last week, a few training exercises coordinated operational command-level formations.
Between Tuesday (22AUG) and Thursday (24AUG), the Western Operational Command (OC) started a training gathering involving reconnaissance subunits. During its course, soldiers practised various forms of reconnaissance activities in unspecified parts of Grodno and Brest Oblasts. At least one special-tactical exercise occurred. A potential correlation of the gathering with other CSTO drills is possible.
Also, on Tuesday (22AUG), the North-Western OC started a training gathering for officers-graduates who recently started their military service.
Initially, practical actions used the military infrastructure of the 60th Communications Regiment and were also probably deployed to the 227th Combined Arms Training Ground and Trostenetsky Training Ground.
The drills were supervised by the Commander of the North-Western OC, Maj. Gen. Alexander Naumenko and involved about 18 young lieutenants who participated in practical training classes. This included classes (Thursday – 24AUG) on the use of various anti-personnel (OZM-72 and MON series) and anti-tank mines led by the Belarusian Mine Action Center specialists. The Head of the Centre, Col. Ruslan Girylyuk, noted that drills had involved live ammunition to allow officers to overcome their fears.
Also on Thursday (24AUG), anti-air subunits of the North-Western Operational Command continued their training. At the Domanovo Training Ground, anti-air battalions of the 19th and 120th Mechanised Brigades held tactical exercises with live ammo firing that involved 2K22 Tunguska self-propelled anti-aircraft guna, Strela-10 self-propelled short-range surface-to-air missile system, and IGLA MANPADS.
Training activities of mechanised formations
As noted above, the training tempo of mechanised formations was visibly smaller.
On Wednesday (23AUG), the Lepelsky Training Ground hosted T-72B training classes for the 4th Tank Battalion of the 19th Mechanised Brigade.
On the following day (24AUG), an unspecified mechanised battalion of the 11th Mechanised Brigade took part in a comprehensive tactical exercise at the 230th Combined Arms Training Ground (Obuz-Lesniovsky). The Western Operational Command Deputy Commander, Col. Dmitry Bitny, supervised the practical actions, including tactical, firing and medical drills.
Subsequently, the 339th Mechanised Battalion (120th Mechanised Brigade) conducted combat training classes at the Barysawsky Training Ground. They included live ammo firing using BTR-82A APC.
Training activities of reservists and Territorial Defence Forces
On Tuesday (22AUG), the Belarusian MoD started a Territorial Defence Forces (TDF) inspection in the Polotsk region. According to the official press statement, drills would last to 14SEP and would seek to restore TDF reservists’ skills. A local executive committee will also establish a People’s Militia detachment during the inspection. On Wednesday (23AUG), data about the induction of at least 25 reserve servicemen already appeared.
Presumably, on Friday (25AUG), the 127th Communications Brigade started a reserve training camp involving a similar number of called-up reservists.
Belarusian preparations for CSTO drills
Regarding training activities, some of the exercises were likely directly linked to the Belarusian preparations for upcoming CSTO drills.
One such drill involved a combat and mobilisation readiness check of the 2657th Petroleum, Oil and Lubricants Base. Although it is unclear when the inspection occurred, the first data about the check appeared on Thursday (24AUG). On this day, the base continued to induct mobilisation resources (likely manpower and equipment). Personnel were to march to the designated area where the actual part of the drills would occur. During the final part of the inspection, the 2657th Petroleum, Oil and Lubricants Base would directly participate in the “Combat-Brotherhood-2023” exercise – most likely the “Echelon-2023” drill involving logistics and rear (sub)units.
A day later (25AUG), soldiers of the 19th Mechanised Brigade’s reconnaissance battalion conducted a complex tactical exercise to prepare them for the upcoming “Search-2023″ drills (also part of the Combat-Brotherhood-2023” exercise).
The preparations occurred at the Gozhsky Training Ground, where servicemen conducted training marches and participated in advanced radio-use training classes.
Noteworthy movements of Belarusian military equipment
Last week, the number of military movements increased due to the heightened training tempo. Most noteworthy transfers included:
- At least ten BTRs with five Ural trucks and a UAZ were moving towards Brest from Stolbtsy;
- About seven trucks and a single empty trailer (including two ZIL-131, three Kamaz and two Urals) were moving from Slutsk, likely towards Ivanovske Ogorodniki;
- Five ZIL-131 fuel trucks (likely removed from storage) were heading towards Grodno from Korobchitsy;
- A single bus with likely four various trucks were moving towards Baranovichi from Stolbtsy;
- A single transport-loader vehicle of the B-200 Polonaise MLRS was moving from Lugovaya Svoboda towards Minsk;
- A single trailer with an OSA anti-air launcher was moving from Puchovichi towards Maryina Horka;
- Three MAZ trucks, three UAVs and a single bus were moving in Minsk (near Uruchcha district);
- An MAZ-537 trailer with a BUK anti-air system were moving in Baranovichi;
- A single BTR-V2 was moving in the outskirts of Minsk;
- Ten various trucks (Ural and ZIL-131) were moving from Ivatsevichy through Baranovichi, Stolbtsy and Smolevichi towards Barysaw;
- Nine MAZ buses with five UAZs heading to Baranovichi from Stolbtsy;
Russian military activity in Belarus
Last week, the Russian forces presented limited activity.
At least two cargo aircraft arrived in Belarus. This refers to Il-76 (RA-78835) and An-26 (RF-36009) that landed at Machulischy Air Base on Wednesday (23AUG) and Thursday (24AUG), respectively.
On Thursday (24AUG), three Russian trucks (two Ural-4320 and a single Kraz) were moving in the vicinity of the Velykyi Bokov Airfield.
Wagner PMC activity in Belarus
Analogically to the Russian forces, Wagner PMC mercenaries also were not particularly active.
On Monday (21AUG), they likely continued joint drills with Belarusian OMON near Krasnoe. Also, four days later (25AUG), unofficial data about their presence at the 230th Combined Arms Training Ground appeared. This could indicate joint drills with elements of the 11th Mechanised Brigade.
Satellite imagery provided by the RadioSvoboda news outlet (23AUG) confirmed that about 101 tents (which could accommodate 2,000-3,000 personnel) were removed from the Wagner PMC camp.