With MLRS Polonaise Minsk has more room for manoeuvre
Initially, MLRS Polonaise has been developed in order to replace Soviet missile legacy. As a result, Belarus has a missile system, which is technically completely independent from co-operation with post-Soviet countries. This explains its political and symbolic significance and expands foreign manoeuvre opportunities for Belarus.
Last week, the state media informed that Belarus introduced into service the heavy multiple launch rocket systems (MLRS) Polonaise and supplied the first batch to the army. The weapon was designed for precision striking against ground targets at ranges from 50 to 200 km.
In the mid-2000s, at the peak of their financial capacity the Belarusian authorities decided about weapon upgrades. By then, the storage deadline for the tactical missile complex Tochka-U, inherited from the Soviet Union, had almost expired. Russia then refused to supply new tactical missile to Belarus, which prompted her to seek technical assistance in China. Polonaise came as a result of Sino-Belarusian cooperation.
It is worth noting that Polonaise is not something revolutionary: with China’s technical assistance, Turkey and Thailand have launched the production of heavy MLRS. Yet Polonaise is one of the most modern MRLs in the class and has some characteristic close to the tactical ballistic missile.
It has been an ongoing trend for many Belarusian neighbours to supply their armies with ballistic missiles for ground strikes. For example, Russia has 9K720 Iskander, Ukraine is at an advanced stage of developing the ballistic missile Grim, Poland purchased the Norwegian NSM and the American AGM-158 JASSM air-land cruise missiles. All of the above weapons have / will have a range greater than 200 km.
Minsk has weapons of strategic deterrence at its disposal, which to some extent widens the field for political manoeuvring, as it increases Belarus’ ability to sustain possible external pressure. Highly mobile heavy MLRS may be used in any direction, depending on where the threat comes from. The MLRS Polonaise is one of the few weapons in the Belarusian army, which do not require Russian maintenance. However, they require Chinese services in terms of missiles supply (or their main parts). Due to the need to achieve a strategic parity with the neighbours, the Belarusian army requires ballistic missile systems capable to strike at distances over 200 km.
The Belarusian authorities regard the Catholic conference as yet another international event to promote Minsk as a global negotiating platform. Minsk’s proposal to organise a meeting between the Roman-Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church is rather an image-making undertaking than a serious intention. However, the authorities could somewhat extend the opportunities for the Roman-Catholic Church in Belarus due to developing contacts with the Catholic world.
Minsk is attempting to lay out a mosaic from various international religious, political and sportive events to shape a positive image of Belarus for promoting the Helsinki 2.0 idea.
Belarus’ invitation to the head of the Holy See for a meeting with the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church should be regarded as a continuation of her foreign policy efforts in shaping Minsk’s peacekeeping image and enhancing Belarus’ international weight. The Belarusian authorities are aware that their initiative is unlikely to find supporters among the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow. In Russia, isolationist sentiments prevail.
In addition, for domestic audiences, the authorities make up for the lack of tangible economic growth with demonstrations of growth in Minsk’s authority at international level through providing a platform for religious, sportive and other dialogues.