Lukashenko attempts to modernise Belarusian army amid conflict in Ukraine
Amid the armed conflict in Ukraine, the president is attempting to change military policy in Belarus. President Lukashenko seeks to develop special operations forces in the Belarusian Armed Forces as a key element for strategic deterrence and counter subversive activities in the country. Most likely, in the near future the Belarusian leadership will speed up the rearmament process in the army, and change its structure and ideological education by redistributing the limited resources in favour of mobile army units, which are the most capable of responding to today’s potential threats from the East.
President Lukashenko has appointed Major-General Andrew Ravkov as the Belarusian Defence Minister.
Ex-Defence Minister Yury Zhadobin has reached retirement age and has been released from duty by President Lukashenko. Major-General Ravkov has been appointed the new Defence Minister. Previously, he served as the North-Western Operational Troops Commander.
Major-General Ravkov is not a well-known figure and his appointment came as a surprise for military experts and analysts. Until now, the president’s personnel policy has been based on the rotation of senior officials – the same persons or security forces proxies were appointed to various positions, in particular, in key power bodies. President Lukashenko sees the need not only in the army’s technical modernisation, but also in reforming the outdated Soviet approaches to defence, especially given the recent developments in the region.
Lukashenko has rebuked Kyiv for failing to ensure Ukraine’s territorial integrity (in particular during the annexation of Crimea). In addition, the Belarusian authorities were well aware that the Ukrainian security forces and the army would be unable to confront the pro-Russian separatists when the conflict started in eastern Ukraine, including curbing Russian assistance to separatist groups.
President Lukashenko’s decision to strengthen the role of special operations forces in ensuring the country’s defence in the new ‘hybrid war’ conditions is only logical. Interestingly, Major-General Ravkov previously commanded the 103rd Mobile Guards brigade in Vitebsk.
Unlike the previous Defence Minister, Major-General Ravkov was born in Belarus and is an ethnic Belarusian, which is rare in the security forces’ leadership. Previously, many leaders in power forces had come from all over the post-Soviet space. Most of Belarus’ top military leaders were educated in Russia – in the Russian Academy of the General Staff – and started their careers in the Soviet army outside Belarus
Amid events in Ukraine, independent analysts regard the appointment of a Belarusian national to head the Army as the president’s desire to limit the Kremlin’s possibilities to influence Belarusian top military leaders and the Belarusian army. President Lukashenko underscored his desire to introduce new young staff who are not related to the armed forces’ central commandment: “Many people have warned me that he did not serve in the central office, was not familiar with these rules and so on. Perhaps this is a drawback, but often it is for the better. An intelligent person will always make sense of the situation in the central office, and will also contribute something from the bottom-up, which is what we really need. We need this in both civilian and, above all, military agencies”.
However, Belarus’ overwhelming military and economic dependence on Russia prevents her from radically revamping the armed forces and revising the military doctrine. Most likely, the Belarusian government will undertake some measures to improve the military training of soldiers and officers, and will work on strengthening the army’s loyalty to the state.
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.