Belarus Security Update – 28 August – 3 September 2023
Summary of key events in Belarus
Last week, no changes in the posture of the Belarusian Armed Forces occurred.
Several noteworthy political-military developments took place last week in Belarus.
Belarusians reported explosions at the Belarusian-Ukrainian border and two border violations on borders with Latvia and Poland.
Notably, the Belarusian Armed Forces received another batch of the Iskander-M missile systems, further improving Belarusian short-range ballistic missile strike capabilities. At the same time, dozens of new servicemen and cadets were inducted into the Belarusian Armed Forces.
The tempo of the Belarusian training activity remained very high but mostly focused on the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) “Combat Brotherhood-2023” joint operational exercise, which includes elements of foreign military contingents deployed to Belarus.
The general activity of the Russian Armed Forces remained rather low.
Similarly, the members of the Wagner PMC likely participated in a single training event with the Belarusian Armed Forces.
On Tuesday (29AUG), several Belarusian sources informed about explosions that appeared in the vicinity of the Slovechno Railway Station situated on the Belarusian-Ukrainian border.
Despite the seriousness of the event, its cause was rather prosaic.
According to preliminary data, explosions occurred due to the lighting strike that struck several TM-62M anti-tank mines planted in the area.
Ukrainian officials confirmed this version shortly after. According to the Ukrainian State Border Service representative, Andriy Demchenko, lighting was a direct cause of the explosions.
The first Belarusian border violation
On Wednesday (30AUG), the Belarusian State Border Guards Committee provided a video presenting two Latvian border guards (or soldiers) crossing the Latvian-Belarusian border at the Grigorovshchina border crossing. The violation occurred because servicemen tried to shorten their way around trucks waiting to cross the border. Despite the minimal nature of the violation, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko raised this subject during the meeting with the Belarusian State Security Council members.
The Belarusian State Security Council Meeting
The gathering of Belarusian security officials took place a day later (31AUG). The event was pre-panned and was thus not linked to the abovementioned violation of the Belarusian border.
During the event, Alexander Lukashenko spoke about the tense military-political situation in the world and the “enlargement policy” of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO).
He pointed out that NATO members were increasing their military presence around Belarus and constantly conducting “provocative” military exercises near Belarusian borders.
What is more, those states accused Belarus of aggressive intentions.
The Belarusian leader confirmed the recent (Latvian) violation of the Belarusian border and referred to the recent Polish demand to withdraw Wagner PMC mercenaries from Belarus. Lukashenko called it unreasonable and stupid (“demand not request”) because Poland and the Baltic States were increasing their military budgets, concentrating military formations near the border regions and hosting foreign military contingents. Lukashenko added that Poland and the Baltic States would obtain the right to protest in Wagner’s presence in Belarus only when they foreign military servicemen from their territory.
According to the Belarusian President, the Polish leadership announced the decision not to implement the CFE treaty in relation to Belarus (APR23), which was the “last legally binding” international act regarding arms control. Lukashenko highlighted the danger of such a step and asked rhetorically how Belarus should react.
Nevertheless, he added that Belarus was ready to restore good relations with its neighbours.
He stressed that Minsk was only the subject of accusations and threats. Lukashenko said that Belarus invited Polish (military) representatives to observe the ongoing “Combat Brotherhood-2023” exercise, an offer which Warsaw declined.
After the meeting, the Belarusian Minister of Defence, Lt. Gen. Viktor Khrenin, also shared some thoughts on the current situation. He stressed that the Belarusian side was waiting for potential guests (referring to the invitation of the Polish observers) to attend the whole exercise (1SEP-6SEP). Khrenin once more highlighted the drills’ planned character, which was very staff-oriented. He noted that the “Combat Brotherhood-2023” sought to coordinate CSTO forces while testing some procedures and changes in doctrinal documents presented by Kazakhstan.
The second Belarusian border violation
On Friday (1SEP), the Belarusian Border State Committee released a video allegedly presenting a “Polish Mi-24 helicopter” violating the Belarusian-Polish border (near Mostowlany village). The airframe reportedly flew 1,200 meters into the Belarusian airspace.
Shortly after the “incident”, the Belarusian Ministry of Foreign Affairs summoned Polish Chargé d’Affaires Wojciech Filimonowicz. Nevertheless, the Polish Armed Forces Operational Command Spokesperson, Lt. Col. Jacek Goryszewski, called Belarusian accusations “an absolute lie and a provocation” and noted that no such incident occurred.
Published footage indeed shows a rotary-wing airframe flying low, presumably near the border. However, it is impossible to determine the type of the helicopter and its operator country.
28AUG – 1SEP2023
Preparations for CSTO drills
Throughout the week, the activities of the Belarusian military officials mainly centred around the upcoming “Combat Brotherhood-2023” exercise and other CSTO drills.
On Monday (28AUG), the Spokesman of the Belarusian MoD, Lt. Col. Inna Gorbacheva, jointly with representatives of the Belarusian military television VoenTV, participated in the briefing of the Chief of Joint CSTO Staff, Col. Gen. Anatoly Sidorov. The event occurred in the CSTO Crisis Response Center in Moscow but was held in videoconference mode.
The abovementioned drills remained the main subject of the gathering. Nevertheless, Sidorov also spoke about the current military-political and strategic situation in the world:
The Chief of Joint CSTO Staff confirmed that the first phase of the “Combat Brotherhood-2023” exercise would take place between 1SEP and 6SEP at several Belarusian training grounds (Brestsky, Gozhsky, Domanovo, Obuz-Lesniovsky, Chepelevo, and Lesische). Officially, Practical actions would involve 2,500 servicemen (including 300 from the Russian Federation) and about 500 military vehicles.
On Monday (28AUG), a single CASA C-295M aircraft transporting the Kazakhstan Armed Forces military contingent arrived in Brest.
A day later (29AUG), another Russian Armed Forces military contingent arrived in the city (the first Russian echelon arrived on 18AUG). Interestingly, the Commander of the Belarusian Special Operation Forces (SOF), Commander Maj. Gen. Vadim Denisenko personally welcomed servicemen, which likely involved a platoon/company-sized element of the Russian Airborne Forces (VDV).
A few hours later, the Belarusian Secretary of the State Security Council, Lt. Gen. Alexander Volfovich, arrived in Brest, where he visited the drills headquarters (HQ) and a camp.
Over the next two days (30-31AUG), Belarusian SOF Commander Maj. Gen. Vadim Denisenko arrived at the deployment area of a foreign military contingent twice. On Wednesday (30AUG), he visited representatives of the Kazakhstan Armed Forces to congratulate them on the Kazakhstan national holiday – The Day of Constitution. On Thursday (31AUG), Denisenko again visited the camp to congratulate personnel of the Kyrgyz Armed Forces on the Independence Day of Kyrgyzstan.
On Friday (1SEP), the First Deputy Secretary of the Belarusian State Security Council Maj. Gen. Pavel Muraveiko, with the Chief of Belarusian General Staff, Maj. Gen. Alexander Volfovich led an official opening ceremony of the CSTO exercises.
The event occurred in the Brest Fortress complex and involved dozens of foreign troops. The CSTO Secretary General Imangali Tasmagambetov and the Chief of the CSTO Joint Staff, Col. Gen. Anatoly Sidorov, also attended the ceremony.
During his speech, Gulevich referred to WWII and highlighted the common (Soviet) heritage of the CSTO members. According to him, preserving historical memory remained crucial in contemporary times. The Chief of Belarusian General Staff wished participants of the exercise excellent results and further strengthening the cooperation among CSTO.
According to the Russian MoD, recently promoted First Deputy of the Chief of Belarusian General Staff Maj. Gen. Andrey Matievich personally supervises the “Combat Brotherhood-2023” exercise. During the interview, Matievich noted that the active part of the drills was meant to work out issues that were not worked out in the previous years. This refers to preparation for the use of highway strips, the dispersal of the air assets (Air Force), setting up of a quarantine area (NBC protection troops) and conducting anti-terrorist activities (presumably SOF subunits).
The arrival of another Iskander-M missile battalion
On Wednesday (30AUG), the Belarusian MoD informed about the arrival of another battalion-set of the Iskander-M missile system to Belarus (Osipovichi-1 Railway Station).
Based on published footage, it likely refers to four 9P78-1 launchers, four 9T250 transport-loader vehicles and probably two 9S552 command vehicles. Nonetheless, the Belarusian Union of Railway Workers provided data suggesting other configurations of the Belarusian Iskander-M battalion.
As noted, Belarus sent several wagons to Kapustin Jar Railway Station on 23MAY. From there, they headed to Taiga Railway Station, where they were loaded and began a journey back to Osipovichi-1 Railway Station. Nonetheless, an echelon with 12 vehicles (not 10) arrived at the latter station.
Interestingly, the same source noted that Belarus sent 60 more train platforms to Kapustin Jar Railway Station on 15MAY and 17MAY, which might suggest the upcoming delivery of other pieces of Russian military equipment.
According to the Deputy Commander of the 465th Missile Brigade, future deliveries of Iskanders will occur. This may suggest that the Tochka-U SRBM will be fully withdrawn from the brigade’s inventory and replaced by Iskanders. Currently, Belarus fields two Iskander battalions (eight launchers).
Start of the new academic year
Over the weekend (1SEP-2SEP), the Belarusian military officials focused on the upcoming start of the new academic year. Nonetheless, certain officials also attended official military oath ceremonies.
On Friday (1SEP), the Belarusian Secretary of the State Security Council, Lt. Gen. Alexander Volfovich, visited the Belarusian Military Academy, where he led a lecture for students of the General Staff Faculty.
His speech pertained to the fundamentals of the state’s military development and involved about 100 students led by the Head of the Faculty, Maj. Gen. Igor Demidenko.
According to VoenTV, Volfovich spoke about the current political-military situation in the world, the future development of the Belarusian Armed Forces and new approaches to military leadership.
Also on Friday (1SEP), the Belarusian Minister of Defence, Lt. Gen. Viktor Khrenin, visited the Minsk Suvorov Military School (MSMS), which officially began a new academic year.
This time, 104 young cadets entered the school. According to the (new) Head of the MSMS, Col. Dmitry Kuchuk, cadets were true patriots who would occupy high-rank positions in the Belarusian Armed Forces and other government agencies in the future.
A few hours later (1SEP), Lt. Gen. Alexander Volfovich and Lt. Gen. Viktor Khrenin and Deputy Minister of Defence for Logistics Maj. Gen. Andrey Burdyko took part in the analogical ceremony combined with the official opening of the Barysaw Suvorov Military School.
The new facility inducted 140 cadets (including 30 women).
A day later (2SEP), several Belarusian military institutions hosted oath-taking ceremonies:
Belarusian Military Academy (more than 600 cadets);
- Military Faculty of the Belarusian State University (at least 40-60 cadets);
- Military Faculty of the Belarusian State Aviation Academy (at least 40 cadets);
- Military-Technical Faculty of the Belarusian State Technical University (at least 20-30 cadets);
- Military-Transport Faculty of the Belarusian State Transport University (at least 50-60 cadets);
The “Combat Brotherhood-2023” exercise officially started on Friday (1SEP), although it was preceded by several coordination and pre-training events.
On Monday (28AUG), soldiers of the 38th Air Assault Brigade blew up a low-water wooden bridge at the Brestsky Training Ground (Pryluky Canal) to “prevent the advance of the mock enemy” during the drills.
A day later (29AUG), the Belarusian MoD informed about “additional training” of reconnaissance subunits earmarked for the “Search-2023” exercise, which involved Tajik (and probably units from other countries) forces.
On Wednesday (30AUG), the same servicemen were redeployed by Belarusian helicopters (Mi-8: 85, 95) to the area of operations.
According to the Head of the Reconnaissance Faculty of the Belarusian Military Academy, Col. Alexander Krasnovskyi, soldiers of the CSTO reconnaissance subunits would be tasked with searching for enemy objects and illegal armed forces and correcting the artillery and aviation fire. As Krasnovskyi noted, they would actively use various UAVs (from the 927th Center for Training and the Use of UAV), thermal imagery systems and modern communication equipment.
On Thursday (31AUG), combat coordination of forces meant to participate in the “Interaction-2023” drills occurred.
When the drill commenced on Friday (1SEP), Belarusians provided some additional data about the course of “Interaction-2023”. Firstly, logistics subunits of the CSTO Collective involved in the “Echelon-2023” special exercise organised a collection point for damaged vehicles, where an unspecified repair and restoration battalion performed restoration activities for tracked and wheeled vehicles.
At the same time, subunit(s) of the 2657th Petroleum, Oil and Lubricants Base trained mass distribution of fuel to a joint CSTO subunit.
The Belarusian 86th Communications Brigade provided communications for units involved in the exercise.
Moreover, the Belarusian Ministry of Defence published photos of the presumably “Combat Brotherhood-2023” command post and presented the Deputy Commander of the Belarusian Special Operation Forces, Col. Dmitry Sobol, as the Commander of the whole CSTO Collective Forces. The post was also visited by the Chief of the CSTO Joint Staff, Col. Gen. Anatoly Sidorov. The First Deputy of the Chief of Belarusian General Staff, Maj. Gen. Andrey Matievich, who supervises the exercise, was also there.
Materials provided by Belarusian MoD also indicated the involvement of the 46th Missile and Ammunition Arsenal. They would provide and secure ammunition and train extinguishing of a fire at the base.
At the same time (2SEP), CSTO Collective Forces took part in a practical episode at the Brestsky Training Ground. Their objective was to prevent the breakthrough of the mock enemy and the destruction of its forces. Servicemen used small arms, grenade launchers, automatic grenade launchers and ATGMs to achieve this objective. Presumably, 20-30 soldiers of the 103rd Airborne Brigade also conducted parachute jumps from a Mi-8MTV5 helicopter over the range.
The reconnaissance subunit involved in the “Search-2023” CSTO exercise trained at the 230th Combined Arms Training Ground (Obuz-Lesniovsky), where they adjusted artillery and aviation fire.
Besides, servicemen taking part in the “Barrier-2023” exercise underwent a series of drills linked to biological reconnaissance, sampling, and evacuation and treatment of military personnel. All practical actions took place under the Head of the Belarusian NBC Protection Troops, Col. Vyacheslav Starkov.
Training activity of the Belarusian Special Operation Forces
Last week, servicemen of all Belarusian SOF formations underwent parachute jumps.
On Tuesday (29AUG), an unknown number of the 5th Spetsnaz Brigade soldiers conducted night parachute jumps from IL-76MD strategic airlift aircraft.
A day later (30AUG), at least 40-50 servicemen of the 38th Air Assault Brigade conducted parachute jumps from the same aircraft over Brestsky Training Ground.
On Friday (1SEP), dozens of the 103rd Airborne Brigade servicemen conducted parachute jumps from An-2 aircraft near Vitebsk.
Besides, independent drills involved elements of the recently formed electronic warfare (EW) subunit of the Belarusian SOF (possibly company-sized) that underwent training classes linked to R-934UM GROZA complex deployment (30AUG).
On Thursday (31AUG), the 103rd Airborne Brigade Medical Company personnel participated in the special-tactical exercise held at the Brestsky Training Ground. Practical actions included reception, registration, and qualification of the wounded. Medical company personnel provided first aid or evacuated personnel to other medical institutions.
Training activity of the Belarusian mechanised formations
Last week, Belarusian mechanised formations presented a low training tempo. Nonetheless, one event later in the week was noteworthy.
On Monday (28AUG), the 19th Mechanised Brigade tank crews took part in T-72 driving classes. A day later (29AUG), their colleagues from the unspecified tank battalion of the 11th Mechanised Brigade took part in the T-72 firing classes held in an unknown location.
On Wednesday (30AUG), the Engineering-Sapper Battalion of the 6th Mechanised Brigade continued its field exit to the Gozhsky Training Ground. During the drills, soldiers trained in the use of engineering munitions.
Moving to the abovementioned (noteworthy) event, personnel from the 120th Mechanised Brigade servicemen departed for Russia. On Thursday (31AUG), the Belarusian MoD confirmed that an unspecified number of soldiers went to Kubinka for training. According to the official statement, soldiers would undergo a training cycle in one Russian combat training centre in September. As the Deputy Commander of the 120th Mechanised Brigade for Ideological Work, Col. Denis Kudravchev noted, the Belarusian contingent consists mainly of contract soldiers, who would be trained under the Russian program using experiences from the Russo-Ukrainian conflict.
It is unclear how many personnel were sent to Russia. However, given that Belarusians used two Il-76MD (EW-004DE and EW-005DE) for transport, Minsk possibly sent two companies worth of personnel.
Training activity of the Belarusian artillery formations
Belarusian artillery formations also actively trained last week, although the overall tempo decreased.
The 51st Artillery Brigade was the only formation which started a new training event. On Wednesday (30AUG), the 2A36 and BM-21 batteries underwent a control tactical exercise at the Osipovichi Training Ground. A day later (31AUG), the 2S5 subunit of the formation took part in the control exercise with live ammo firing.
On Friday (1SEP), elements of the 111th Artillery Brigade finished their field exit and returned to the home garrison. This refers to 2A65, BM-27 and likely 2S5 subunits that departed their base on 6AUG.
On Saturday (2SEP), the 310th Artillery Group of the 120th Mechanised Brigade also finished its field exit and returned to the permanent deployment area.
Training activity of the Belarusian specialised formations
On Monday (28AUG), an unspecified 120th Air Defence Brigade subunit commenced a field exit to the Domanovo Training Ground. Nevertheless, no additional data on this event were released.
Noteworthy movements of Belarusian military equipment
Over the past seven days, despite increased activity, the number of military movements remained similar to the previous week. Most noteworthy transfers included:
- To UAZ vehicles with a single Gazel was moving from Minsk towards Svisloch;
- Seven MAZ trucks were moving towards Svisloch from Minsk;
- At least four MAZ trailers with the same number of S-300/S-400 launchers and a few additional unspecified vehicles moving from Samokhvalovichi through Minsk towards Stolbtsy.
- Two Dongfeng Mengshi vehicles with a single MAZ truck were moving from Mazyr towards Luchezhevichi;
- An anti-air/air defence system(s) were moving in the vicinity of the Alexeiky;
- A single BTR with three Volat vehicles were moving from Uruchcha towards MKAD;
- Several MAZ trucks with presumably anti-air/air defence complexes were moving near Anonishki;
- Five MAZ trucks were moving towards the R23 road from Machulischy;
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
Last week, the members of the Wagner PMC presented almost no activity.
Unofficial military-related Telegram channels claimed that Wagner personnel were involved in the 51st Artillery Brigade’s training classes.
On Wednesday (30AUG), several Belarusian sources provided graphics informing about the death of four servicemen of the 33rd Separate Spetsnaz Detachment of the Belarusian SOF. According to these reports, they died during joint training with the Wagner PMC units at the Gozhsky Training Ground due to an explosion of the artillery shell:
Shortly after, the Ministry of Defence also provided an official statement denying these reports.
On Saturday (2SEP), several unofficial sources informed that two Wagner PMC mercenaries arranged a memorial to Yevgeny Prigozhin and Dmitry Utkin at the Eternal Flame Complex in Minsk.