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 President Lukashenko sees the need not only in the army’s technical modernisation, but also in reforming the outdated Soviet approaches to defence, especially given the recent developments in the region.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.
President Lukashenka continues to rotate staff and rejuvenate heads of departments and universities following new appointments in regional administrations. Apparently, new Information Minister Karliukevich could somewhat relax the state policy towards the independent media and introduce technological solutions for retaining control over Belarus’ information space. New rectors could strengthen the trend for soft Belarusization in the regions and tighten the disciplinary and ideological control over the student movement in the capital.
President Lukashenka has appointed new ministers of culture and information, the new rector of the Belarusian State University and heads of three universities, assistants in the Minsk and Vitebsk regions.
The new Information Minister Karliukevich is likely to avoid controversial initiatives similar to those former Minister Ananich was famous for, however, certainly within his capacities. Nevertheless, the appointment of Belarusian-speaking writer Karliukevich could be regarded as the state’s cautious attempt to relax environment in the media field and ensure the sovereignty of national media.
The Belarusian leadership has consolidated the trend for mild Belarusization by appointing a young historian and a ‘reasonable nationalist’, Duk as the rector at the Kuleshov State University in Mogilev. Meanwhile, while choosing the head of the Belarusian State University, the president apparently had in mind the strengthening of the ideological loyalty among the teaching staff and students at the main university in order to keep the youth movement at bay. Previously, Korol was the rector of the Kupala State University in Grodno, where he held purges among the disloyal teaching staff.
The trend for the renewal of mid-ranking executives and their rejuvenation has confirmed. The age of the Culture Minister and three new rectors varies from 39 to 44 years old.