President Alexander Lukashenko has even proposed the notion that the Belarusian military troops can be used as peacekeepers in eastern Ukraine. This article aims to explore exactly what it is that makes the Belarusian army so special.
Belarusian peacekeeping operations
The Belarusian Constitution forbids the use of the Belarusian armed forces abroad. However, Lukashenko is known for his ‘flexible’ attitude towards the articles of the Basic Law, and has the discretion to use the law as he deems appropriate in a given case. For the last 20 years of his governing, the Constitution of Belarus has been amended several times.
At one point President Lukashenko openly declared that the Belarusian military men “Should participate in peacekeeping operations, and they can even make money.”
In 2005, a small peacekeeping unit as part of the 120th Guards Mechanized Brigade was formed. The unit is currently stationed in Vitebsk on the base of the 103rd Guards Separate Mobile Brigade. There are 40 permanent members of staff, and there are 200 individuals who serve under contract in other parts of the Belarusian army, that are assigned as peacekeepers.
A ‘threat’ for neighbours
Unlike many other leaders of the former Soviet countries, the Belarusian President can really rely on his army. Back in 2005, in an interview with a German newspaper Die Welt, Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus stated he didn’t rule out the possibility that the Belarusian army could potentially invade Lithuania if the need arises.
“If Russia can be an economic threat to Lithuania, the border with neighboring Belarus has recently been recognized as problematic even by Brussels. Waking up in the morning, you never guess what could happen in Minsk in the night,” the President of Lithuania stressed in an interview.
Valdas Adamkus worries are justified, as the Belarusian army is indeed strong enough to attack any neighbouring country if ever there is a reason for it, except Russia, of course. Many international experts consider the Belarusian army to be a well-armed and combat-ready national army in the post-Soviet space. The strength of the Belarusian army is determined by the rich heritage of the Soviet era.
Back to the USSR
The Belarusian army of today was formed on 20th March 1992. By the time of its independence, Belarus had been the base of the Belarusian Military District – the most powerful in the Soviet Union. In fact, it was the closest neighbour rear area of the Soviet troops in Europe – the famous Western Group of Forces. For this reason, Belarus was the Soviet country, that has the most modern plants for repairing aircrafts, helicopters, and armored vehicles, as well as two refineries, because a huge amount of equipment required a continuous supply of fuel.
The well-known Belarusian roads of high quality were originally built as auxiliary runways for fighter aircrafts. Even now Belarusian pilots annually train to take off and land on highways, mostly on the highway M1 connecting Moscow to Brest.
Belarusian Army today
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Belarus had a large number of troops consisting of 280,000 people. Belarus could boast of the highest concentration (in Europe) of military units and formations, military airfields and outdoor ranges, while the number of stockpiled weapons, ammunition, military equipment and military hardware exceeded all reasonable limits.
A comprehensive, but slow reform of the Armed Forces of Belarus began after the withdrawal of nuclear weapons from its territory in 1996. The inherited structure of the Belarusian Military District was transformed in accordance with new regulations; Belarusian military men got rid of divisions and regiments, and the former armies were transformed into operational and operational-tactical corps. The military air forces and air defense forces were merged. Airborne units, being highly offensive, did not fit into a new military concept of the country. Some Airborne Troops were cut down; some of them were converted into so-called mobile forces.
As it stands today, the Belarusian Army consists of 62,000 military men. For the last ten years, Belarusian annual military budget costs have been between $900 million to $1 billion.
At the same time, all the experts note the Belarusian soldiers’ high qualifications. Numerous military training exercises, including those held jointly with Russia, allow them to stay in good shape and enhance their knowledge as well.
A special component of the Belarusian army is the so-called Territorial Defense Forces that are being created since 2011. In fact, these forces consist of civilians from different parts of the country that are trained in guerrilla activities.
If Belarus is occupied by enemies, the Belarusian army can quickly form regional guerrilla units. It is less costly in terms of budget to keep these guerrilla troops than the regular army; moreover, there is no doubt that Belarusian guerilla army have a wealth of experience in doing their job.
Of course, the Belarusian army’s weapons are inevitably becoming obsolete, but this problem can be solved successfully. Numerous enterprises of the Belarusian military industrial sector repair and modernize tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, armored personnel carriers, helicopters and aircrafts not only for the Belarusian armed forces, but also for the Russian and Ukrainian armies alike, as well as for a number of other countries.
Belarusians also create their own equipment, for instance, a commando-type reconnaissance tank 2T ‘Stalker’. Together with the Ukrainian armorers, Belarusians produce air defense complex ‘Stiletto’, anti-tank missiles ‘Skif’ and ‘Shershen’ (English – ‘Hornet’), the helicopter Mi-8.
Cooperation with Russia
Moscow consistently delivers modern weapons to its main ally. For this simple reason, after the establishment of the Community of Russia and Belarus (1996) and its transformation into the Union State in 2000, the Belarusian army actually ‘guards’ the European part of Russia in the west.
Not by coincidence, in 2007, Lukashenko asked the Kremlin for beneficial hydrocarbons supplies, adding that the rejection of the Union with Belarus would seriously damage Russia’s defense capacity. According to the Belarusian President, the Russian armed forces will need $21 billion to replace ‘the Belarusian army cordon that protects Russia’.
“In Russia, from Moscow to the country’s western suburbs, there are two incomplete divisions, and after the deployment of the US missile defense system in Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Ukraine, the defense issue becomes of utmost importance for Russia,” reminded Lukashenko.
It is worth mentioning that the Belarusian enterprises produce thousands of items for the Russian defense industry. First of all, they manufacture electronic and optical components, radars, communication and control systems, military computers and simulators. The Minsk Wheel Tractor Plant (MZKT) produces wheeled chassis for all the Russian missiles – from the Topol-M to the S-400 Triumf.
Since 2000, Russia and Belarus have been creating a joint air defense system; its objective is to defend not only the territory of Belarus, but also a significant part of the western border with Russia. The basis of this military group is formed by the Belarusian army (the first strategic echelon of defense) and by units of the Moscow Military District, deployed in the western region. Russia provides the weapons for this group, including the S-300 and the S-400 Triumf, fighter jets and other military equipment. Furthermore, since 2014, Russian fighter aircrafts have been permanently based in the military airfield in Baranovichi, western Belarus.
Joint military exercises with Moscow
Belarusian and Russian military men hold regular joint exercises, for example, the ‘West 2013’ exercises, held in September 2014, became the largest in the region since the Soviet era and almost put Belarus on the brink of a military conflict with Poland and the Baltic countries. At that time, Warsaw really believed that the Belarusian-Russian troops were preparing to carry out offensive operations after the usage of a tactical nuclear bomb.
Text by GAZETA.RU
Photo by Wikipedia Commons