Belarus Security Update – 31 July – 6 August 2023

BLUF: Over the past seven days, the general posture of the Belarusian Armed Forces (BAF) remained unchanged. Manoeuvre elements of mechanised brigades conducted  ATGM drills. Wagner forces continued to arrive in Belarus as their activities in the country grew. Specifically, Wagner personnel and the 51st Artillery Brigade soldiers deployed joint crews during an artillery exercise.

Executive summary

Two Belarusian helicopters violated Polish airspace last week in what Warsaw called a deliberate action. Although Minsk refuted these claims, the relations between Poland and Belarus are at a very low point. In response to this event, Poland said it would reinforce its military presence near the border and deploy additional forces there. We do not expect to see a decrease in tensions between Poland and Belarus over the next six months, as Wagner’s presence and activities in Belarus will continue to grow.

This event came as Russia pulled back some (probably most) of its airframes from Belarus, and its activities in the country continue to decline.

Political developments

Polish border violation

On Tuesday (1AUG), two Belarusian helicopters crossed the Polish-Belarusian border and entered Polish airspace over Białowieża village.

Initially, the Operational Command of the Polish Armed Forces denied the airspace violation occurred. However, after several hours, the Polish Ministry of Defence (MoD) confirmed that two Belarusian helicopters entered the Polish airspace. The MoD claimed that helicopters flew in at a low altitude, making detection difficult. We are not sure this is accurate. Although no early warning radars may be deployed close to the border, at 50 meters, radars should still be able to pick up incoming airframes from 15 kilometres away. Radars should be deployed at these distances near the border with Belarus. Secondly, helicopters stayed in Polish airspace for two minutes, and, likely, the armed forces and the government did not have enough time to react.

Several citizens took photos of Belarusian aircraft confirming the violation occurred with Mi-24 (No. 14) and Mi-8 (No. 86) helicopters.

The Polish government informed NATO about the development and summoned Belarusian charge d’affaires to the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

After a few hours, the Belarusian MoD released an official statement, which called Polish accusations “far-fetched”. It claimed that the Polish political-military leadership made up the story to justify military build-up near the Belarusian border. Minsk claimed that the initial Polish report, which said no violations occurred, was altered after Warsaw consulted with an “overseas host” (United States).

The Belarusian side provided another statement a day later (2AUG). It said that the Belarusian MoD and Ministry of Foreign Affairs provided Warsaw with “detailed and objective” data, which confirmed no border violations. Officially, Belarusian helicopters flew at 150-200 meters and approached the border not closer than 1,900 metres (one mile), while a Polish Mi-2 helicopter flew about 200 metres from the border. Minsk also added that it had provided Warsaw with information about its flights near the border in advance and regularly interacted with a Polish duty officer responsible for air traffic from the Air Operations Center of the Operational Command of the Polish Armed Forces. Belarusians concluded that provocations in situations where Poland had information about the Belarusian flights would be illogical.

However, images taken by Polish citizens that were subsequently geolocated confirmed Polish statements. The only unknown is whether the violation occurred intentionally and resulted from a pilot’s error.

The Belarusian Hajun, a military monitoring team, provided data suggesting that the violation could have been unintentional. They claimed that, at that time,  the Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko had stayed in his residence in Viskuli, about 8 kilometres from the Polish-Belarusian border (10 from Bialowieza), since 30JUL. A day prior (29JUL), Belarusian Air Force transferred Mi-8 and Mi-24 (No. 14) helicopters to Kamenyuki, located nearby, for escort duty.

On Tuesday (1JUL), at about 10:00 AM, Lukashenko departed from his residence and conducted a 2.5-hour flight (as a part of the officially announced air inspection) towards Belovezhsky. The abovementioned Mi-8 and Mi-24 helicopters escorted him, flying along the border, and most likely accidentally crossed into Poland around 10:30 AM.

Belarusian Mi-8 and Mi-24 flying paths (Source: Belarusian Hajun Monitoring Team)

Hajun said that representatives of the Belarusian “security services” waited at Machulischy Air Base for pilots who accidentally crossed the Polish-Belarusian border.

Wagner deployment

On Tuesday (1AUG), Alexander Lukashenko delivered some noteworthy statements on the current political-military situation, focusing on the issue of the Wagner PMC deployment in Belarus.

The Belarusian leader stressed that mercenaries are experienced fighters helping the Belarusian Armed Forces free of charge. He also denied Polish accusations about the deployment of Wagner personnel near the Polish-Belarusian border, explaining that their movement in western Belarus was linked to ongoing joint training activities, including “Wagnerities” and personnel of Belarusian brigades located in the vicinity of the Polish border (6th Mechanised Brigade – Grodno and 38th Air Assault Brigade – Brest).

Lukashenko claimed he had invited a certain number of “Wagnerities” to Belarus to strengthen the Belarusian Armed Forces (by joint training). However, he also added that some of them might directly reinforce the Belarusian Army (by serving on a contract) in the future.

Regarding the current-political military situation, Lukashenko noted the negative influence of the United States on the situation in Europe. He pointed out British support for American actions focused on Poland and Ukraine. The Belarusian President once more noted that he personally “holds Wagnerities”, who would like to take revenge for Western support for Ukraine and enter the Polish city of Rzeszów.

Besides, Lukashenko once more highlighted that Belarus did not need war.
He stressed that Belarusian Armed Forces were analysing the course of the Russo-Ukrainian conflict and were actively preparing for the worst scenario. The Belarusian President brought the deployment of nuclear weapons in Belarus as an example of a measure meant to secure the state and deter any hostile action against Belarus. He also informed that over half of the nuclear weapons planned for deployment had already been delivered and dispersed in the country.

Lukashenko was not the only one commenting on deploying nuclear weapons and Wagner PMC mercenaries to Belarus.

On Monday (31JUL), Alexey Polishchuk, the Head of the second department of the CIS countries at the Russian Foreign Ministry, stressed that the deployment of Russian nuclear weapons to Belarus was a response to both the destabilising policies of NATO and the United States, and recent changes in the European security.

In his opinion, such a move was only meant to ensure the security of the Union State. According to Polishchuk, the hypothetical withdrawal of Russian weapons might only occur if NATO would “abandon its destructive course” and eliminate nuclear infrastructure in the continent (including the withdrawal of warheads).

Polishchuk also spoke about the joint Russo-Belarusian military training centres. He claimed they would work based on existing military units and noted the possibility of establishing similar centres for almost all service branches.

On 31JUL, the U.S. Ambassador to United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, spoke about the Wagner PMC deployment to Belarus. He stressed that the organisation did not act independently of Russian authorities and threatened neighbouring states. Thomas-Greenfield stressed that any Wagner attack on a third state would be considered an attack of Russia and would trigger an American response.

Military developments

Personal changes

Last week, several appointments and farewell ceremonies occurred in the Belarusian Armed Forces. They arise from personal changes made by Presidential Decree No. 234 from 28JUL (covered in the Belarus Security Update – 24 July – 30 July 2023).

On Tuesday (1AUG), the Commander of the Western Operational Command, Col. Vladimir Bely, introduced the new Commander of the 6th Mechanised Brigade, Col. Ruslan Glovatsky, who replaced Col. Alexander Lavrenov (appointed to the Western OC Chief of Staff position). The Deputy Minister of Defence, Maj. Gen. Andrey Zhuk led an appointment ceremony for the new Head of the  Minsk Suvorov School, Col. Dmitry Kuchuk.

Two days later (3AUG), Col. Vladimir Bely officially farewelled the (former) Chief of Western OC Staff, Maj. Gen. Vladimir Kupriyanyuk. The ceremony occurred during the Western OC military council meeting and resulted from Kupriyanyuk’s appointment as the Main Intelligence Directorate Head.

A day later (4AUG), at least 25 personnel were promoted to the colonel rank. The official ceremony led by the Belarusian Minister of Defence, Lt. Gen. Viktor Khrenin, also involved several other generals, including the Belarusian Minister of Defence (Lt. Gen. Viktor Khrenin), the Chief of Belarusian General Staff (Maj. Gen. Viktor Gulevich), the Deputy Minister of Defence (Maj. Gen. Andrey Zhuk), as well as Head of the Main Financial and Economic Department (Maj. Gen. Igor Mozhilovsky), and Chief of Armaments (Maj. Gen. Alexander Fedin).

Promotions included the Commander of the 56th Communications Regiment, Lt. Col. Alexey Hodor, and the Head of the Minsk Military Commandant’s Office, Lt. Col. Dmitry Zhukovsky.

Khrenin’s trip to Iran

Between Monday and Tuesday (31JUL-1AUG), the Belarusian Minister of Defence visited Iran and held several official meetings there.

On Monday (31JUL), Lt. Gen. Viktor Khrenin met with the Iranian Minister of Defence and Support of the Iranian Armed Forces, Brig. Gen. Mohammad Reza Ashtiani. During the meeting, Khrenin noted that current relations between Belarus and Iran were friendly because they were built on mutual respect and shared values. Khrenin also highlighted that despite the West’s sanctions, and political pressure, Iran was able to build a strong and independent state. Belarus was now in a similar position and was forced to defend its sovereignty and independence.

Both countries MoD sides signed a memorandum of understanding on cooperation in the military sphere and approved a military cooperation plan for the current year.

Presumably, a day later (1AUG), Khrenin met with the Chief of Iranian General Staff, Maj. Gen. Mohammad Bagheri. Officially, both generals discussed the state and prospects of bilateral military cooperation linked to joint training and the use of the armed forces.

VDV day

On Wednesday (2AUG), Belarus celebrated the Day of Airborne Troops (VDV), popular in the post-soviet states. Celebrations of the holiday occurred in all three Belarusian Special Operation Forces (SOF) brigades. Despite quite unusual performances of Belarusian servicemen, it is noteworthy that the Commander of the Belarusian SOF, Maj. Gen. Vadim Denisenko participated in the celebrations of the 38th Air Assault Brigade (Brest), where he delivered a few noteworthy statements.

Initially, Denisenko spoke about the current accomplishments of his subordinates. He noted that soldiers of Belarusian Special Operation Forces reached a reasonable level (of professionalism), which, however, “is not perfect yet”. Referring to the Russo-Ukrainian conflict, Denisenko noted that “everything goes back to old wars” – massive use of artillery and the use of small subunits.

After that, he pointed out that Belarusian SOF always paid particular attention to actions such as platoons, companies and battalions. However, he said they would focus even on lower-level actions “of standalone squads and actions at separate axes”. According to Denisenko, in the next academic year, the Belarusian SOF would introduce two separate training plans – for airmobile formations (38th Air Assault and 103rd Airborne Brigades) and Spetsnaz formations (5th Spetsnaz Brigade).

Military exercises

Last week, the training actions primarily focused on combined arms formations.

On Tuesday (1AUG), elements of the 339th Mechanised Battalion (120th Mechanised Brigade) started combat training classes at Uruchcha Training Ground. During drills “based on modern armed conflicts”, servicemen practised movement techniques and evacuation of wounded. Two days later (3AUG), servicemen continued their actions and performed combat coordination measures. After passing the psychological obstacle course, they trained as part of mechanised squads.

During the week, servicemen of at least two tank battalions performed ATGM firing from a T-72 tank. On Wednesday (2AUG), such classes involved tank crews of the 4th Tank Battalion (19th Mechanised Brigade), while tankers of the 120th Mechanised Brigade (334th or 355th Tank Battalion) undertook such drills two days later (4AUG) at the 227th Combined Arms Training Ground.

On Wednesday (2AUG), the 120th Mechanised Brigade soldiers did a live ammo firing exercise at the Domanovo Training Ground. This drill involved personnel from the anti-air battalion (2S6 Tunguska-equipped subunit) that practised firing at ground targets.

At the same time, young officers of the Western Operational Command (recent graduates) took part in an unspecified methodological gathering held at the Gozhsky Training Ground.

On Friday (4AUG), the 51st Artillery Brigade service members finished their practical artillery fire control exercise at the Osipovichi Training Ground. It is important to note that 2S5, 2A65, BM-21 and BM-27 crews actively cooperated with Wagner personnel during these drills, which involved fire missions using “joint” crews.

Regarding reserve personnel training, the 11th Mechanised Brigade hosted combat training classes for called-up reservists on Thursday (3AUG). Reservists undertook firing drills to restore their professional skills.

Prior to that, about a dozen reserve servicemen departed from Brest Oblast to unspecified reserve training camps two days earlier (1AUG).

According to the Belarusian Hajun team, unspecified elements of the Belarusian Armed Forces started unspecified combat training classes on Friday (4AUG). Notably, they are taking place near Saki and Sokolovo villages, where Belarusian leadership ordered the construction of defensive lines. The drills will last to 14AUG and involve unspecified pyrotechnic means.

Last week, three movements of Belarusian military equipment were noteworthy:

Monday (31JUL):

Thursday (3AUG):

Moreover, unofficial sources informed the presence of a military echelon (four BTR-80) spotted at Lokomotivnoe Depo Railway Station in Baranovichi on Friday (4AUG).

Russian military activity in Belarus

Last week, the Russian Armed Forces deployed in Belarus presented relatively meagre activity.

At least five Russian transport aircraft arrived in Belarus. This refers to:

  • An-148 (RA-61724) – Monday (31JUL) (landed in Baranovichi);
  • An-12 and An-26 – Thursday (3AUG) (Machulishchy and Baranovichi);
  • An-12 – Friday (4AUG) (Baranovichi);
  • An-12 – Saturday (5AUG) (Baranovichi);

On Monday, a Russian Mi-8 helicopter conducted a flight from Machulischy Air Base. According to unofficial sources, an unspecified fighter aircraft (MiG-31) could have arrived at the same base a day later.

The Belarusian Флагшток news outlet informed that  Russian soldiers in the area of Zyabrovka Air Base started to wear their insignias and identification marks. According to Флагшток sources, most of them are artillerymen, presumably from Buryatia.

On Thursday, a Russian column with 15-20 vehicles (mainly trucks and fuel trucks) was moving on the R62 road between Berezino and Bobruisk. Moreover, a single Kamaz truck appeared in Mazyr.

Wagner PMC activity in Belarus

The deployment of additional Wagner forces to Belarus continued. On Tuesday (1AUG), the 14th convoy arrived in Tsel, involving about 15 trucks, mainly carrying containers, and a few buses and pick-ups.

Recent satellite imagery confirmed that Russian mercenaries also actively use Belarusian military warehouses in the former Military Town No. 28 Poplavy. It hosts 15 buildings, including ten warehouses with an area of up to 1070 square metres.

On Wednesday (2AUG), Radio Svoboda published satellite imagery of the Osipovichi Training Ground, presenting a possible construction of training fortifications on the range. The imagery presents several construction/engineering vehicles, which confirm the preparation of training dugouts and trenches. The presence of stoves might indicate that they will be actively used also in winter.

“Wagner” mercenaries erect fortifications at the “Repishcha” training ground near Osipovichi. Satellite picture  (Source: Radio Svoboda)


“Wagner” mercenaries erect fortifications at the “Repishcha” training ground near Osipovichi. Satellite picture  (Source: Radio Svoboda)

On Thursday (3AUG), two aircraft belonging to Wagner arrived in Belarus. These flights refer to BAe 125-800B (RA-02878) and Beech C90GTi King Air jets (RA-07893), which landed at Machulischy Air Base flying from Sankt Petersburg and Moscow, respectively.

The first aircraft presumably belongs to Yevgeny Prigozhin and arrived in Belarus for the third time since 27JUL. The aircraft departed for Russia after about 33 hours in Belarus.

On Friday (4AUG), Artem Dekhtiarenko, spokesperson of the Security Service of Ukraine, said that Russia wanted to use Wagner forces to conduct a terrorist attack in Belarus. He said that they could attack the Mazyr Oil Refinery to draw Belarus into the war.

We assess the chances that such an event would occur are remote.

Rochan’s assessment

The incident with Belarusian military helicopters violating Polish airspace could have been an attempt to test Polish and NATO air defence capabilities and readiness in the Brest-Bialowieża direction.

The additional deployment of Wagner forces to Belarus combined with the creation of training facilities indicate plans for the long-term presence of Wagner units in Belarus. We expect the Osipovichi military training ground to be used regularly during day-to-day drills or command-staff exercises conducted with Russia.