Military industrial complex outlook as a bridge between Russia and Belarus
Enhanced cooperation with Russia in the military sphere reinforces a safety cushion for a number of Belarusian companies by enabling them to take part in state procurement orders. Simultaneously, the cooperation programme’s ambiguity will push Belarus to seek additional funding opportunities, not necessarily in Russia.
In Minsk on October 23rd, Belarusian First Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Semashko and Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin signed an action plan to intensify cooperation between the defense industrial complexes of the two countries for 2012-2015.
The signed document is a framework agreement, but the tone of statements by vice premier Rogozin implied that Russia has not abandoned attempts to acquire some Belarusian industrial assets. In particular, during the visit, two companies were named: “Integral” (computer technology) and MAZ (engineering), however the details and additional conditions for cooperation between these companies have not been disclosed. It is a known fact, that talks about MAZ and KAMAZ merger are ongoing.
In turn, Belarusian Prime Minister Myasnikovich expressed a desire to eliminate all restrictions still in force for a number of Belarusian industries within the Customs Union and the Common Economic Space. It should be noted that this request is not in Rogozin’s competence: he is in charge of the military-industrial complex and military-technical cooperation.
Thus, the political outcome of Rogozin’s visit to Minsk was the shaping of yet another link between Minsk and Moscow, in the security sphere and military-technical cooperation. However, the failure to address specific issues, i.e. the volume of financial support or compensation to the Belarusian defense industry and corresponding industrial enterprises – is most likely to cause Minsk to look for additional support. Therefore it is still possible that cooperation with the West will be enhanced, if Russia does not offer Belarus a profitable continuation of the project in question.
Over the past year, military-political relations between Minsk and Kyiv have become complicated. Due to their high inertia and peculiarities, this downward trend would be extremely difficult to overcome.
The root cause of the crisis is the absence of a common political agenda in the Belarusian-Ukrainian relations. Minsk is looking for a market for Belarusian exports in Ukraine and offers its services as a negotiation platform for the settlement of the Russo-Ukrainian war, thereby hoping to avoid political issues in the dialogue with Kiev. Meanwhile, Ukraine is hoping for political support from Minsk in the confrontation with Moscow. In addition, Ukraine’s integration with NATO presupposes her common position with the Alliance in relation to Belarus. The NATO leadership regards the Belarusian Armed Forces as an integral part of the Russian military machine in the western strategic front (the Baltic states and Poland). In addition, the ongoing military reform in Ukraine envisages a reduction in the number of generals and the domestic political struggle makes some Ukrainian top military leaders targets in politically motivated attacks.
Hence, the criticism of Belarus coming from Ukrainian military leadership is dictated primarily by internal and external political considerations, as well as by the need to protect the interests of generals, and only then by facts.
For instance, initially, the Ukrainian military leadership made statements about 100,000 Russian servicemen allegedly taking part in the Russo-Belarusian military drill West-2017. Then the exercises were labelled quazi-open and military observers from Ukraine refused to provide their assessment, which caused a negative reaction in Minsk. Further, without citing specific facts, it was stated that Russia was building up its military presence in Belarus.
Apparently, the Belarusian and Ukrainian Defence Ministries have entangled in a confrontational spiral (on the level of rhetoric). Moreover, only a small part of the overly hidden process has been disclosed. That said, third states are very likely to take advantage of the situation (or have already done so). This is not only about Russia.
The Belarusian Defence Ministry officials are restrained in assessing their Ukrainian counterparts. However, such a restraint is not enough. Current military-political relations between Belarus and Ukraine are unlikely to stabilise without the intervention of both presidents.