The armed and security forces of Belarus and the possibility of a "decapitation strike"

(To Andrea Gaspardo)

After having spoken extensively in the two previous analyzes of both the internal problems of Belarus and the geopolitical interests of Moscow in the context of the current crisis, it is now time to analyze in more detail the power structures on which the regime of the president-master is based. Aleksandr Grigoryevich Lukashenko and where and how breaking points may arise that would lead to his fall.

Leaving aside the generous social policies, especially for the benefit of workers in heavy industry and agriculture, designed specifically to gain their consensus, the pillars of the Lukashenko regime on the side of the so-called "hard power" have always been from the beginning: the Armed Forces and the Security Forces. As Belarus is a post-Soviet country, it is not surprising that it borrowed both its military tool and what we would call "law enforcement" from its "parent state" and that they share many characteristics with those of the other countries, both recognized and not, arose from the ashes of the former USSR.

At the time of the disintegration of the Soviet empire, in December 1991, the newly formed Republic of Belarus took control of an imposing military instrument made up of the assets of the former Soviet Armed Forces headquartered on its territory. At that time, the young republic even became a "nuclear state" as it also inherited 81 single-warhead ballistic missiles based there. However, in compliance with a series of international agreements under the umbrella of the so-called "Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty", Belarus (together with Ukraine and Kazakhstan) agreed to sell all its nuclear weapons to neighboring Russia by 1996 so that were dismantled. At the same time, due to the terrible economic crisis and the changed international strategic situation, the Minsk authorities also opted for a decisive reduction of the conventional military instrument, at that time absolutely disproportionate for the economic and demographic dimensions of the state. Although after his election as president, Lukashenko has repeatedly sworn to restore the military prestige of Belarus and has created a very effective propaganda system to convey this image both abroad and internally, the reality of the facts is completely different. given that not only the military instrument of Minsk has continued to reduce numerically even under his regime, but there has also been a terrifying deterioration in quality, not unlike what happened in neighboring Ukraine.

Currently, the Belarusian Armed Forces count on 65.000 personnel and 350.000 reservists, for a theoretical total of 415.000 men divided into five branches: the Ground Forces, the Air Forces and Air Defense, the Special Forces, the Mobile Forces and the Territorial Troops. . Since Belarus is a landlocked country, it does not have a navy. The first thing to note is that most reservists are not regularly called back to "freshen up military training" as is the case in countries like the United States of America, the United Kingdom, Israel or, by going fishing in space. ex-Soviet, Armenia. The almost complete lack of training of reservists essentially makes them a useless component of the fighting force and has cascading effects on the entire military system and its constituent branches:

- Territorial troops, from the top of their 120.000 troops numerically constitute the most important component of the armed forces in Minsk but, since they are made up exclusively of reservists with little or no training, they are essentially reduced to a sort of "uniformed after-work" good for parades and nothing more. The most obvious consequence of the failure of the Territorial Troops are the current protests that are affecting the country. Given that the very existence of these troops has precisely the purpose of "militarizing society and making it obedient", the fact that the Belarusian opposition movement has managed to bring so many people to the streets for so many consecutive days, it is the signal that the stones have been removed and military control has definitively fallen;

- Mobile Forces, Also called Logistic troops (o Transport Troops) are an autonomous branch of the Belarusian Armed Forces that deal with managing the delicate logistics system and facilitating the movement and general mobilization of the country's military power in the event of a war outbreak. Even in this case, however, the backbone of the aforementioned is made up of reservists therefore the same assessments reported above apply to the Territorial Troops. The fact that logistics represents the famous "Achilles heel" of the Minsk forces can also be understood from the joint exercises between the armed forces of Russia and Belarus, during which the Belarusians must inevitably rely on the much more organized, trained and equipped logistic services of the Russians. This is definitely bad news for a country covered in forests and swamps where mastery of the art of logistics is quintessential if you want to fight a war;

- Ground Forces represent the maneuvering component of the Belarusian military instrument. They are made up partly of active-duty soldiers (both professional and conscript) and partly of reservists. The units of the Ground Forces formed by reservists are poorly trained and are in a condition similar to that of the aforementioned Mobile Forces and Territorial Troops. Things are obviously better for units made up of soldiers on active duty, but here too there is the saying: "a swallow does not make a spring", given that several international observers have pointed out the extreme difficulty that Belarusian soldiers have in operating, to example, at the "brigade" level. If we consider the fact that the brigades are the basic element of Belarusian military doctrines, this is in no way in favor of the Minsk strategists. Overall, the combat component of the Ground Forces is organized into three brigades: the 6a Mechanized Guard Brigade, headquartered in Grodno, 11a Mechanized Guards Brigade, stationed in Slonim, and 120a Mechanized Guards Brigade located right in the capital Minsk. This arrangement was designed to allow these units to converge rapidly towards the borders of Poland and Lithuania in the event of an invasion of the national territory by NATO, and this justifies Lukashenko's bombastic announcements in recent weeks, according to which " the Belarusian army has been mobilized on the borders of the countries from which the hostile and destructive forces come ”;

- Air Forces and Air Defense they are the counterpart in the skies of the Ground Forces and have the delicate task of protecting national airspace. Due to its technical complexity and the high technology that implicitly characterizes its means, the air component, both fixed-wing and rotary-wing, has suffered most of all from the budget cuts that have occurred year after year starting from 'independence. Today, the Air Forces are just a shadow of what they were in 1992, with most of the aircraft being sold on the arms markets for hard currency or simply being struck and scrapped, and we're not just talking about "old irons. "Given that, for example, in December 2012, Belarus took the decision to ban all 21 Sukhoi Su-27" Flanker "heavy fighters still in service, the only one among the 19 countries that have so far had an aircraft of the “Flanker” family to opt for full radiation of one of the models. The same applies to the Mig-29s, inherited from the Soviet Union in no less than 80 units, now reduced to 39. The Air Forces were also affected by a long series of accidents that led to the loss of several aircraft and pilots. thereby also exposing chronic deficiencies in aircraft maintenance; an aspect, the latter, also reported by several Belarusian arms customers such as Algeria, Angola, Sudan or Syria, which were seen to be delivered aircraft that were absolutely no longer able to fly until after radical and very expensive cell revitalization programs. The situation of the Air Defense Forces is better, which control the radars and anti-aircraft missiles, but only because the anti-aircraft defense has for years been closely integrated with the Russian one, having become in effect an appendage and therefore being financed directly by it;

- Special forces they are the last of the members of the Minsk forces, the best in all respects from a qualitative point of view and are strong with about 6000 men chosen from among the professional soldiers or among the most gifted conscripts on the physical and mental level. Given the importance these men hold both within the military structures and as bastions of the regime, it is necessary to say a few words about them. At the time of their foundation, the Special Forces numbered about 1000 men but were subsequently subjected to a process of strengthening, being assigned not only the regular tasks typical of the special forces but also a series of additional functions of a security nature against any internal unrest. . In this way, the regime wanted to have politically reliable, well-trained formations ready to act quickly and mercilessly when threats loomed. The operators of the Special Forces must all obtain the parachuting license and receive a rather intense training from a physical and decidedly realistic point of view, with the use of blades and firearms with real and not blank bullets, so much so that they were not lacking accidents, several of which were fatal. As already mentioned in the previous analysis, Belarus inherited Mariyna Gorka's important Spetsnaz training base from the USSR and it is there that much of the training activities are concentrated. The units belonging to the Special Forces Command are:

  • the 38a Air Assault Brigade of the Guards, stationed in Brest;

  • the 103a Airborne Guards Brigade, stationed in Vitebsk;

  • the 33th Spetsnaz Detachment of Guards, stationed in Vitebsk;

  • the 5a Spetsnaz Brigade, stationed in Mariyna Gorka;

  • the Detachment for Special Jobs of the 5a Spetsnaz Brigade (also known as "the Company of Officers" because it is made up of officers only), stationed in Mariyna Gorka;

  • the 527th Spetsnaz Company, stationed in Grodno;

  • the 22th Spetsnaz Company, stationed in Grodno;

  • the 742th Field Communication Center, based in Kolodishi;

  • the 91th Separate Guard Battaglia, stationed in Minsk.

Despite their undoubted qualities, the Special Forces alone are not enough to raise the evaluation of the Belarusian Armed Forces as a whole, which remains strongly negative. According to various analyzes and intelligence reports drawn up both in NATO headquarters and in the Russian Federation, the Belarusian Armed Forces as a whole are in a phase of terminal decay: they are no longer a source of pride but of alienation for the Belarusian population, not they are no longer able to integrate conscripts into the fabric of the nation but generate the exact opposite and, technically, they are unable to effectively support the Security Forces if truly serious internal or external challenges arise to the stability of the Lukashenko regime.

Although on the propaganda side, Lukashenko continually demonstrates the "solidity" of his "steel fist" and does not disdain to attend military parades and maneuvers by wearing from time to time curious uniforms designed for his personal use and consumption, the objective reality on the ground it is very different. Corruption, alcoholism, indiscipline, general incompetence and, above all, the widespread phenomenon of "dedovshchina" (what in Italy is called "hazing") are literally undermining the institution from the depths to the point of questioning its long-term survival. By way of example, it will suffice to recall that according to official data from the Ministry of Defense of the Republic of Belarus, 49% of the young officers baked by military academies between 2011 and 2015 decided to leave the Armed Forces well before the end of their contract of enlistment while out of about 500 who managed to end the contract period, only 59 opted to remain in service afterwards; everyone else literally got "lost along the way", horrified by the situation they found while on duty.

Even the national media are now continuously filtering reports concerning the ill-treatment suffered by soldiers and subordinate officers and the continuing failure of the high command to punish those responsible, even in extreme cases in which such actions result in the death of soldiers. The interesting thing is that in Belarus, as practically everywhere in the world, young students of military schools and academies come largely from families with a wealth of experience in the service of the homeland that has lasted for decades. The fact that they have decided to leave the institution en masse speaks volumes about the deterioration of the institution, and even the Ministry of Internal Affairs in an official note stated that the number of crimes committed in the military is "unprecedented" and " gets worse from year to year ".

Concern about the state of health of the armed forces has now become a priority and is openly discussed by all Belarusians, not only by those who are most aligned with the regime, but also by those who constitute its most tireless opposition, all seriously concerned. that this process can open the way to God only knows what socio-institutional destabilization scenarios. However, despite this now widespread alarm, it seems that, as long as Lukashenko remains in power, the Belarusian Armed Forces will continue, slowly but surely, to wither. On the other hand, the situation of the Security Forces is different, an umbrella name under which there are various organizations whose task is essentially that of carrying out the functions of our local "police forces". Given that the Security Forces represent the regime's first line of defense against internal opposition, it is not surprising that Lukashenko has always invested huge resources to strengthen and "retain them". The country's main internal security bastion is the Ministry of Internal Affairs, known as MVD / MUS. A whole myriad of other institutions and realities depend on it, of which we will mention only the most important for the purposes of this analysis given their proven collusion with the regime in power:

  • la Militsiya: following a practice inherited from the Soviet Union, “militsiya” is the name by which the “police” is still called. It is divided internally into numerous departments both of a territorial nature and of mission and competence. Alongside normal “law enforcement” operations, Militsiya also plays a key role in suppressing internal opposition protests;

  • le Troops of the Army of the Interior: an organization existing only in post-Soviet countries, the troops of the Army of the Interior constitute a real armed force and gendarmerie used to suppress any internal upheaval or ethnic disorders. Among the units of this “army”, the 3a Separate Special Operations Brigade (also known as “Military Unit 3214”, “Uruchenskaya Brigade” or “Lukashenko's Zombies” due to the almost fanatical loyalty with which they carry out his orders);

  • the OMON / AMAP: Like their Russian counterparts, OMON / AMAP are special detachments of gendarmes specifically trained to engage crowds in urban unrest situations, a bit like our riot police units. In reality, OMON / AMAP have often been used literally to beat and intimidate defenseless demonstrators in situations where the use of force would not even have been necessary;

  • l'Special Anti-Terrorism Unit "Almaz" (SPBT Almaz): unit created to carry out anti-terrorism tasks, the Almaz has built up an excellent reputation over the years and has a world-class track record globally in both the fight against terrorism and organized crime, but to it has also sometimes been used to intimidate prominent opposition members, actions that have tainted its otherwise brilliant history;

  • l'Special Rapid Reaction Unit (SOBR): a unit created in the image and likeness of the Russian SOBRs, the Belarusian SOBR is a special unit tasked with capturing highly dangerous armed criminals, freeing hostages and intervening in other “delicate” contexts. Despite having accumulated over the years a curriculum equal to that of the "sister" Almaz mentioned above, the SOBR has also gained a sulphurous reputation in Belarus since, under the direct order of its former commander Dmitry Pavlichenko, it was responsible for the disappearance and of the almost certain murder of several prominent personalities of the opposition world and even of Belarusian entrepreneurship guilty of not being sufficiently "malleable" for the Lukashenko regime.

In addition to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the galaxy of entities and units under its jurisdiction, the Lukashenko regime relies on two other very important "structures" to guarantee its internal stability. One is the so-called Presidential Security Service of Belarus, formally charged with providing the physical security of the president and other important institutional offices of the state, but in fact used by Lukashenko as a sort of "praetorian guard" to be unleashed at will and without restraint against all his political enemies without the judicial and legislative powers can carry out any kind of supervision with regard to its actions. The other is instead the famous State Security Committee of the Republic of Belarus (KGB / KDB), heir to the old Soviet KGB whose name it still bears. No introductions are necessary here because the Belarusian KGB / KDB is very famous internationally for the repeated violations of human rights against real or alleged opponents of the regime, who are very often reached even abroad by the "claws" of the " siloviki ”Belarusians. Officially the KGB / KDB would also have other tasks such as spying operations abroad, counter-espionage operations, military intelligence and anti-terrorism however the particularly negative record of operations against its own people has simply it also eclipsed the good the organization has done over the years and made it the most popularly hated entity across the country. In addition to its employees and operatives in civilian clothes, the KGB / KDB also controls two important military formations:

  • il Border Guard Service: the Belarusian Border Guards have the task of controlling both the internal and external borders of the country in collaboration with the State Border Committee of the Republic of Belarus, GPK. Over the years, both the Border Guards and the GPK have proved particularly effective in preventing the smuggling into the country of material that can be used for "insurrection" purposes, so much so as to make it fundamentally impossible to repeat scenarios such as the "Euromaidan" in Belarus. of Ukraine;

  • il Alfa Group: the "crème de la crème" (or the "merde de la merde" according to the personal interpretation of each) of the entire military and security apparatus of the Republic of Belarus, the Belarusian Alpha Group, just like its "sister units "Of Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan that bear the same name, three originating directly from the Soviet Alpha Group, an anti-terrorism unit founded in 1974 by the then head of the Soviet KGB Yuri Andropov and split in 1991 along republican lines at the time of the disintegration of the USSR. According to the testimony of his former commander, Colonel Oleg Chernyschev, the average age of its members is around 27 years and the staff is made up of 80% veterans from other units of the Security Forces and 20 % from professional athletes. The physical training that Belarusian specialists undergo is world-class and it is no exaggeration to say that all the men of the Alfa Group are potentially just as many Olympic champions and, of course, know how to use weapons! They are assigned the most delicate missions of the entire imaginable operational spectrum and, like other elite units of the country's Security Forces, Alfa has also amassed a good deal of international convictions for abuses such as beatings, torture and extra-judicial killings.

We thus concluded our roundup through the infinite series of “matryoshkas” that make up the varied world of Lukashenko's Belarusian Armed Forces and Security Forces. The final result is a painting characterized by lights and shadows that are not always easy to interpret.

We have seen how, beyond the official propaganda of the Belarusian regime, the Armed Forces of the country are in a state of complete decay, if not decay, with the only exception being the unit headed by the Special Forces Command.

Conversely, the team of units and institutions that make up the world of the Security Forces represents a well-oiled, trained and motivated machine that in the past as in the present has been used by the authorities as a club without making many compliments.

Now that Lukashenko is facing the most serious challenge to his power in 26 years, the question arises: how long can his power apparatus hold out and where could his end come from? I had already partially touched on this point at the end of my previous analysis on the geopolitical dimension of the Belarusian crisis (v.articolo) and now I will return to this aspect to try to shed further light on how the Belarusian crisis could end and what are the chances of success for a possible "decapitation strike" aimed at eliminating the country's leadership.

First of all it is necessary to clarify once and for all that any movement of change that leads to the fall of Lukashenko can only start from Belarus itself and from Russia but NEVER from the West.. In the last period, various newspapers in Italy and elsewhere have flooded us with pieces, sometimes even signed by important names in politics, academia, journalism and even the world of philosophy (among which Bernard-Henri deserves to be mentioned Lévy who, like parsley, cannot resist the temptation to talk about any problem that occurs in the world) generally belonging either to the so-called "Atlantic current" or to that of the "liberal left with caviar" (the so-called "radical chic ”) Who in their wildest dreams would like to see the flag of NATO and the European Union fly in Minsk and in general have an operetta idea about what Belarus really is. These are counterbalanced by a handful of extremists that we could define as "pro-Putinians" who, in a sometimes very idiotic way, desperately try to paint every upheaval that takes place in post-Soviet countries as "plots conducted by a Western direction". As far as I am concerned, the conclusions of the "Atlantic pro", the "caviar left" and also of the "Putinian pro" must all be rejected to the sender.

If we really want to understand what is happening and how things will turn out, we must instead necessarily start from what the Russians call: “объективные условия на местах” (freely translatable as “objective conditions on the ground”). The objective conditions on the ground of the Belarusian crisis are as follows:

  • Whether the "pro Putiniani" like it or not, the Belarusians want to get rid of the Lukashenko regime absolutely. The signals we receive from within the country are clear; after 26 years of "undisputed reign" and a cascade of errors that I have already described in great detail in the first analysis relating to the Belarusian crisis, the Belarusians have had enough of a Kolchozian without the most elementary managerial skills and who has created a power that to all intents and purposes it can be defined as satrapal and para-mafia;

  • Whether the "pro-atlantists" like it or not, the Belarusians have NO intention of joining NATO that they overwhelmingly consider an evil organization intent on destabilizing peoples and countries (from this point of view no one in Belarus has forgotten the examples of Yugoslavia, Iraq, Libya, Syria and so on and so forth);

  • Whether you like the "caviar left" or not, Belarusians do NOT want their country to become a member of the European Union. This is basically for two reasons; first, they know they do not deserve it, since they are aware that theirs is still a poor country; second, because the European Union has shown inefficiency in managing the most disparate crises and is unable to have a truly independent policy from NATO, and this refers to the previous point;

  • At the same time, Belarusians do NOT want their country to be absorbed by Russia and become a pure and simple "Belarusian region within Russia", but they still want Belarus to remain in a relationship of formal alliance and cultural brotherhood with Russia which they see as the “sister republic” and the radiating center of the civilization to which they know they belong.

So here we have found the squaring of the circle. The Gordian knot of the whole Belarusian affair is: to accompany Lukashenko to the grave while preserving the placement of Belarus in the privileged sphere of influence of Russia: the so-called "Near Abroad". The only person who can achieve all this is Putin because only Russia has the levers of power within Belarus to implement "regime change". But be careful, no one has ever said that this operation is "child's play" even for a fox, albeit a bit aged and lazy, like Putin!

The first element that must be considered is the determination of the Belarusian demonstrators to protest and strike to the bitter end for weeks or even months in order to make the management of the country ungovernable and, if possible, push Lukashenko into an exaggerated reaction that causes "a massacre of limited proportions ”(let's say 100-200 deaths at once) such as to definitively discredit that autocrat in front of the whole world and Russia in particular. Even a conservative and "stability-obsessed" power like Russia would now be forced to act, in the face of over 9 million "Belarusian brothers crying out for help". At that point, once the political decision has been made to intervene and have achieved a unity of purpose and strategy with the other centers of power and influence of Russia, the second step to take is to use the levers of power that the Russians have within Belarus to ensure that their straight-leg intervention in the internal affairs of their little neighbor is not perceived as an invasion. To this end it is necessary that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation and the various intelligence agencies engage in a close dialogue (and perhaps they are already doing so right now!) Both the "Belarusian deep state" and the opposition so that they are they themselves legitimize in front of the world and their own people the fact that Russia "is about to commit a regicide".

The last piece of the whole will then be the physical elimination of Lukashenko, his children and that part of his entourage too compromised with his crimes, an elimination that, given the importance of the targets, would be entrusted to the Spetsnaz of the "Alfa Group ”And the FSB's“ Vympel Group ”. For this, it is necessary to plan an effective "dacapitation strike", comparable to that implemented by the Soviets in Kabul in 1979, and which can indeed serve as an excellent model of imitation. Even the experience of the occupation of Crimea can help, where the Russian military can immediately interact as a positive force with the Belarusian protesters, perhaps waving the Russian flag, the flag of Belarus and the flag of the Belarusian opposition all. three together, thus presenting themselves as "the liberators from a tyrant's regime" and not as "the umpteenth occupiers".

But how will the Armed Forces and Security Forces described above react once Russian intentions become clear and the regime change operation is set in motion? This is the real million dollar question. Given the widespread penetration of the Belarusian military and security device by Moscow, it is possible to affirm with a considerable degree of certainty that most of the elements of the Armed Forces and Security Forces not only will not resist, but will actively help the Russians in the implementation of their coup d'état. Indeed, the signal of the start of the “Stiletto” operation (an absolutely imaginative name invented on the spot!) Could just be an uprising of the army against Lukashenko's power (perhaps after the massacre hypothesized above). However, it is very possible that at least a part of the elite units of both the Armed Forces and the Security Forces will not accept the fait accompli and engage in a fight to the death, not so much to save the dictator but because they have committed serious crimes in the Over the course of the Kolchozian's multi-year government, they know well that once his reign is over, they can expect as a reward to go to jail or, in the worst case, the death penalty itself (which is good to remember, in Belarus it is still in force !).

Here, therefore, is the scenario of the Russian contingent and the Belarusian rioters committed to stifling the resistance actions of the elite corps of Lukashenko's loyalists even several days after the leader's killing. The historical example is also provided in this case by Afghanistan where, on January 1, 1980, 5 days after the success of the "Storm-333" operation that led to the killing of the dictator Hafizullah Amin, the victorious Soviet soldiers they competed with the paratroopers of 26th Parachute Regiment, the elite unit par excellence of the Afghan army, stationed at the fort of Bala Hissar. When the Afghans refused to lay down their arms, the Soviets moved to the attack and, after a violent battle, completely annihilated the unity, massacring about 700 paratroopers.

The possibility that the men of the elite forces of Minsk, although "brothers of milk and blood" of the Russian military, decide, not so much for the love of Lukashenko, but for pride of country and honor of unity not to surrender and to fight to the end it should not be underestimated at all and how to obtain their disarmament at the slightest bloodshed is undoubtedly one of the most pressing headaches of the Kremlin's strategic planners right now.

Photo: MoD Russian Federation / Kremlin / film frame "Viva Belarus!" / web / US DoD