Minsk seeks to reduce military-technical dependence on Russia
The diversification of the military-technical cooperation between Belarus and foreign states is a long-term trend. In addition, Belarus aims to start producing some weapons and military equipment crucial for national defence.
Last week, Kazakhstan hosted the VIII meeting of the Sub-Commission for military-technical cooperation of the intergovernmental Kazakh-Belarusian commission for trade and economic cooperation. For obvious reasons, details have not been disclosed, however, the Belarusian delegation visited Kazakh defence enterprises Kazakhstan Paramount Engineering and Kazakhstan Aselsan Engineering, which was indicative. The first enterprise, a joint venture with the South African Paramount Group specialises in the production of wheeled armoured vehicles. The second, with the participation of the Turkish Aselsan, among other things, produces secure communication systems, reconnaissance and target designation systems. These products are among the priority for the Belarusian military-industrial complex.
Earlier it was reported that the contract signed in 2015 for the delivery of Russian wheeled armoured vehicles to Belarus remained unperformed. President Lukashenka demanded that the national army gave priority to domestic products. In addition, the Belarusian military industrial complex had previously showed the ambition to establish the production of gun-type wheeled armoured vehicles.
In addition to Kazakh products, Belarus could be interested in Kazakhstan’s experience in organising joint production in the military-industrial complex. Such interest was stated at the highest level.
In the last decade, Minsk was consistently expanding the geography of the military-industrial cooperation. Simultaneously, it sought to reduce the dependence on defence supplies from Russia when it made economic and technological sense. In addition, the very fact of having partners other than Russia in such a sensitive sphere as the production of weapons is politically important.
Minsk has the incentive to seek new partners and deploy own defence production due to the problematic nature of Belarusian-Russian relations and Moscow's refusal to supply weapons and military technologies, which has prompted Belarus to producing own missile weapons (for example, the MLRS Polonaise).
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.