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Defense Policies

Military Development and the Armed Forces of Belarus

Pavel Bykovsky

Alexander Vasilevich

The formation of the Belarusian Armed Forces began after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the appearance of the inde­pendent Republic of Belarus.

On September 20, 1991 the Supreme Soviet of Belarus passed resolu­tion "On the formation of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Bela­rus" and on January 11, 1992 resolution "On the Armed Forces deployed in the terri­tory of the Republic of Belarus." Practical steps followed the de­clarative resolutions. On March 18, 1992 the parliament passed reso­lution "On the Armed Forces of the Republic of Belarus" that bound the government "to start the formation of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Belarus as of March 20, 1992" and "to submit to the Su­preme Soviet for approval the suggested struc­ture of the Armed Forces, their size and order of their material and technical supplies".

Legal foundation

On November 3, 1992, Belarus passed the law "On the Armed Forces of the Republic of Bela­rus"1  defining the status, structure and guiding principles of the Armed Forces. After the intro­duction of presidency the law was amended twice: on September 4, 1996 and on November 9, 1999 but on the whole the law retains its ini­tial contents.

The law proclaims the Armed Forces a state military organization constituting the founda­tion of national defense in Belarus. It provides for interaction between the Armed Forces and border troops, Interior Troops and troops of the State Security Committee. Besides, the law di­rectly prohibits "the use of army units for ful­filling tasks not related directly to the defense of the country, except for cases of extinguishing fires or clearing the consequences of natural and other disasters."

The Belarusian Armed Forces follow the prin­ciples of a regular army staffed on the basis of combining general conscription with contract military service, of a centralized command and "lawful sole command". They comprise the land force, air force and air defense, special forces, military educational institutions, Defense Ministry offices, or­ganizations and enter­prises.

The president who is also the Supreme Commander-in-Chief, the parliament and government are in charge of the general leadership of the Armed Forces. The De­fense Ministry is in charge of the day-to-day functioning of the Armed Forces. Under the law it "shall bear full responsibility for combat and mobilization readiness, for training them [the Armed Forces] to fulfill tasks in times of war, for logistics, for advancing their organizational structure, arma­ments and military hardware, for operational and combat training, for army discipline, for guaranteeing the security of classified informa­tion and resistance to foreign intelligence ser­vices, for the observation of laws". In his turn the Defense Minister "shall be personally re­sponsible for combat and mobilization readiness, for the training of troops and headquarters for performing the tasks given to them." Local mili­tary control bodies - military commissariats of different levels - are in charge of organizing mobilization and conscription.

Article 8 of the law on the Armed Forces states that "the Belarusian and/or Russian lan­guages shall be used" in the Armed Forces, however, in actual fact the Russian language is used almost without exception. Nevertheless, the Defense Ministry has published the army regulations in Belarusian and a Russian-Belarusian dictionary of military terminology. Pa­triotism and morale in servicemen are inculcated primarily on the basis of traditions of the Rus­sian and Soviet armies while the mention of tra­ditions of the army of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, Rus' and Samogitia is permitted only if nothing is said about its war against Moscow. The activities of any parties, public or political movements or other organizations with political objectives are banned in the Belarusian Armed Forces.

On November 3, 1992, the Supreme Soviet passed the law "On Defense2". The law "rejects wars or use of armed force" but simultaneously "recognizes the right to use all economic, diplo­matic and military capabilities for implementing a defensive military policy with the purpose of averting and stopping an aggression." It also states that in addition to the Armed Forces Bel­arus has border troops, Interior Troops and civil defense units for armed defense. At the same time it prohibits the organization "of other armed formations not provided for by the legis­lation of the Republic of Belarus."

Military doctrine

On December 16, 1992 Belarus approved its Military Doctrine based on two principles: the prevention of war and the suppression of aggres­sion.3 It introduced the notion of armed sover­eignty that, however, does not rule out coop­eration with other countries to repel an aggres­sion.4 The Center for Military Studies of the Chief Staff of the Armed Forces explained then that in keeping with the doctrine "if a situation arises in the event of an aggression that national forces are insufficient for repelling an armed in­cursion, the republic shall reserve the right on the basis of a signed treaty or agreements to unite efforts with other countries to rebuff the aggressor". Evidently, Russia was implied as the document openly calls it an ally.

The military doctrine has two sides: the mili­tary-political and military-technical. The con­cepts of preventing war and suppressing ag­gression constitute the military-political side.

The concept of preventing war is a system of ideas of the ways and means of eradicating pre­requisites for the beginning of a war. It implies the settlement of disputes through a political dialogue, the renunciation of the use of armed force and the strengthening of the role of the United Nations on issues of collective security. The concept names the principles of interaction with countries of the region interested in the formation of a nuclear-free belt from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea, in a general and uncondi­tional ban on nuclear weapons in the territory of the nuclear-free belt. It also contains the principles of exclusion of Belarusian territory from the war plans of foreign countries, nonpar­ticipation in armed conflicts between other countries unauthorized by the United Nations, and the refusal to offer Belarusian territory to foreign troops or military bases.

The concept of suppressing aggression is a system of ideas of defense and suppression of aggression combining political, economic, dip­lomatic, military and other measures. One more component of the concept is the principle of re­ply use of force for foiling the violation of the Belarusian air space and the use of the Armed Forces in the event of an aggression when all other, nonmilitary measures prove insufficient.

The military-technical side of the doctrine rests on the concepts of deterrence and active defense that represent a system of ideas about the na­ture of a possible war, forms of warfare and the structure of the Armed Forces. The concept of deterrence is a system of ideas of the status of the Russian Strategic Force temporarily de­ployed in the territory of Belarus and procedure of using it. In keeping with the 1992 version of the concept the Russian Strategic Force was supposed to guarantee the military-strategic sta­bility of Belarus with Belarus having the right to participate in decision-making on its use. Af­ter the withdrawal of the force from Belarus on November 27, 1996 the concept of deterrence ought to have changed but there has been no of­ficial coverage of the matter in the open press.

The principle of retaliation actions implies an inevi­table counter-strike delivering unacceptable damage and also the comprehensive use of all the forces and means to foil an aggression against the Republic of Belarus.

The concept of active defense is a system of ideas of the development of the Armed Forces, their training to stop a possible aggression, the development of forms and means of warfare, a policy of developing armaments and military equipment and supplying the Armed Forces with them within the limits of sufficient defense. The core of the concept is formed by the principle of cooperation, bilateral and multilateral, on ques­tions of designing and purchasing armaments and military hardware, training military person­nel, developing the infrastructure for defense.

Military development stands for fundamental principles of staffing the Armed Forces, cen­tralized leadership and lawful sole command, balanced advancement of the arms of service with an emphasis on defense forces and means, and also the capability of increasing the combat potential of the Armed Forces in circumstances of a growing military threat.

The principle of mobile defense means that the Armed Forces have small but powerful grouping ready for flexible use there where a real threat may arise. Consequently the Land Force will comprise the following:

  • permanent readiness troops capable of repel­ling a local aggression;

  • mobile forces (a rapid reaction force) capa­ble of moving fast in any direction to carry out tasks together with permanent readiness troops in low intensity conflicts;

  • trained reserves used in periods of threat of war or war to rebuff a large-scale aggression.

The concept named minimal armed formations of the Land Force sufficient for defense consid­ering that in case of rebuffing an aggression or localizing (stopping) an armed conflict on terms favorable for Belarus they are reinforced by mo­bile forces and trained reserves.

National security concept

The current military policy is determined by the National Security Concept. Its first wording was approved on March 27, 1995. Its new wording was approved by presidential decree of July 7, 20015 . Its Section 4 "The security of the Re­public of Belarus in the military sphere" is of special interest in the context of this article.

The concept recognizes that the military-politi­cal position of Belarus was significantly compli­cated by the NATO enlargement to the East, the proclamation of a new strategic concept of the North Atlantic Alliance implying the use of armed force without a mandate from the United Nations or OSCE, the formation of a European rapid reaction force, the appearance of army groupings in neighboring countries in the imme­diate vicinity of the Belarusian border and an increase in the military spending of those coun­tries.

At the same time the concept names as a posi­tive factor the development of military coopera­tion with Russia in the framework of their un­ion which allowed them to form a single air de­fense system, launch plans of setting up a joint regional army grouping, and adopt a program of guaranteeing coordinated mobilization training until 2005, the concept states. Joint programs arms programs for 2001-2005 are also being car­ried out. The concept names as a factor strengthening the defense potential of Belarus its participation in the collective security treaty.

The concept names the vital defense interests of Belarus:

  • to guarantee effective protection of the sover­eignty and territorial integrity in case of the use of armed force or threat of force against it;

  • to maintain the military potential at a level sufficient for neutralizing military threats;

  • to exclude the involvement of the Armed Forces in any armed conflicts outside the boundaries of Belarus;

  • to form a scientific, technological and industrial defense potential taking into account the latest trends in the development of arma­ments and military hardware;

  • to expand international cooperation and part­nership and build confidence in the military sphere;

  • to form a common defense space in keeping with the treaty on the formation of the union state with Russia;

  • to exercise civilian control over the Armed Forces.

The concept says the biggest threat to the secu­rity of Belarus may come from the determina­tion of certain countries or coalitions to resolve their foreign policy problems by using armed force or threatening to use it, and also from the appearance of an international public opinion justifying the possible use of armed force to set­tle differences. It names as the second biggest threat the existence of means of mass destruc­tion that may be used to settle differences or conflict situations.

It names the priority tasks of guaranteeing the military security of Belarus:

  • to pursue a government policy of preventing war and maintaining peace, to neutralize possi­ble outside military threats;

  • to develop the necessary defense potential and an effective mechanism of using it;

  • to implement a program of military develop­ment guaranteeing the necessary standard of the combat capability of the Armed Forces;

  • to participate in international security ar­rangements, including those arising in the framework of the treaty of the union state and the collective security treaty;

  • to develop government programs of modern­izing the Armed Forces, other troops and armed formations, to consistently implement them;

  • to participate in disarmament and arms con­trol processes in the framework of international treaties;

  • to advance military research and the mili­tary personnel training system;

  • to strengthen military and military-technical cooperation with Russia and other countries-par­ties to the collective security treaty and the CIS;

  • to improve mobilization plans and to create the necessary material reserves;

  • to develop a government policy of civil de­fense and protection of the population and terri­tory from emergencies.

The formation and restructuring of the Armed Forces

Until 1992 the Belarusian military district of the USSR comprised the 5th Guards tank army, the 7th tank army, the 28th army, the 120th Guards motorized infantry division, the 51st Guards aviation division, the 72nd Guards United Training Center and also logistical units and formations. In addition to these troops Bel­arus was the area of deployment for units sub­ordinated directly to the USSR Defense Minis­try and chief commanders of different Armed Forces services, namely the 103rd Guards air-borne division, the 38th Guards air-borne bri­gade, the 11th corps of the 2nd detached Air Defense army, the 28th aviation army and also units and formations of the Strategic Missile Force, strategic aviation, Navy and special forces. They had combined personnel of 280,000 servicemen, white and blue collar workers.6  The units and formations of the Belarusian military district were armed with T-72B tanks, BMP-2 AIFVs and BTR-80 APCs, MiG-29 (Fulcrum), Su-25 (Frogfoot) and Su-27 (Flanker) aircraft, Mi-24 (Hind) assault heli­copters and other weaponry.

Under the abovementioned regulatory acts, the troops of the Belarusian military district of the USSR Armed Forces were reformed into the Armed Forces of the Republic of Belarus.

On July 17, 1992 the newly formed Belarusian army had 3,457 tanks, 3,824 armored com­bat vehicles, 1,562 artillery systems, 390 war­planes, and 79 assault helicopters.7 Under the CFE treaty and the two followed documents that the legal successors of the USSR signed in Tashkent on May 15, 1992: the Agreement on the Principles and Procedures for the Implemen­tation of the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe and the Protocol on Maximum Levels for Holdings of Conventional Armaments and Equipment, Belarus agreed to keep 1,800 tanks, 2,600 combat vehicles, 1,615 artillery systems, 260 war planes and 80 assault helicopters.

The personnel of the Armed Forces could not exceed 100,000 under the Final Act of the Hel­sinki agreement of February 10, 1992. These provisions formed the core of the plan of re­forming the Armed Forces. The reform was car­ried out in two stages:

Stage 1 - 1992

The Armed Forces were reduced by almost 30,000 servicemen, their operational purpose was defined and the main regulating documents were approved.

Stage 2 - 1993-1994

The Armed Forces were reduced by over 16,000 servicemen. The reduction was completed for the most part. Official report say that in 1992-1996 over 250 armed formations ceased to exist or were seriously reformed, the size of the mili­tary personnel plummeted to one third and sta­bilized at about 85,000. 8

The said level was achieved by the beginning of 1996. Nevertheless, official reports for January 1, 1996 stated that the Belarusian Armed Forces had 2,183 tanks (235 T-55, 20 T-62, 1,782 T-72, 146 T-80), 2,839 fighting vehicles, 1,814 BMP combat vehicles, 1,533 artillery sys­tems, 376 multiple launch rocket systems, 338 combat aircraft, and 70 assault helicopters. They had combined personnel of 85,190: 45,214 in the Land Force, 12,667 in the Air Force and 9,055 in Air Defense. Over 18,000 officers were reduced in the process of reform. On April 1, 1996 there remained 19,808 officers and 40 gen­erals in active duty. The average age of officers was 32 years, 1,255 (6.3%) of them had combat experience.9

Structure and armaments

Now the Belarusian Armed Forces consist of the Land Force, Air Force and Air Defense.

The Land Force comprises three army corps and one motorized brigade: the 5th army corps (Minsk and Mogilyov regions), the 28th army corps (Grodno and Brest regions), the 65th army corps (Minsk and Vitebsk regions), the 120th Rogachev motorized infantry division. BMP-2 fighting vehicles and BTR-80 combat vehicles constitute the basis of their armaments. There are some 2,500 of such vehicles.10 In 1997 the army reduced the number of tanks to the target level. There remained 1, 778 tanks united into two regiments of the Rogachev mo­torized infantry division, tank battalions of de­tached motorized brigades, arms storage bases. T-72 is the main battle tank in Belarus. The main artillery systems used in the Land Force are the multiple launch rocket systems BM2 Grad, Uragan, and Smerch, self-propelled and regular artillery guns 2S5 Giatsint, 2S1 Gvoz­dika, 2A51 Nona, MSTA-S and others - a total of up to 1,500 units.

The mobile force consists of three independent brigades deployed in Vitebsk, Borovukha (near Polotsk) and Brest, and also the fifth independ­ent special purpose brigade in Maryina Gorka. They were developed on the basis of paratroop forma­tions, but in addition to the mobility of air-borne units they have a greater fire potential comparable to motorized infantry units. Mobile brigades con­sist of motorized infantry and tank, rocket and ar­tillery, air defense units and also special forma­tions supporting the main force - communications, engineering, radio and auto­mobile.11

The Air Force in terms of organization consists of air bases formed at major military airfields. Its fleet consists mainly of Su-24M frontline bombers, Su-24MR reconnaissance planes, Su-25 ground attack aircraft, Su-27P and MiG-29 fighters. Its main assault helicopter is Mi-24. The air bases also have Mi-26 (Halo) military transport helicopters and Il-76MD (Candid) cargo aircraft.

The Air Defense consists of radio-technical, rocket, communication, logistical and rear units. They are equipped with up-to-date and in some cases unique models of weapons and hardware, including S-125M1 (SA-3), 9K22 Osa, S-200 (SA-5), S-300P (SA-10) and S-300V (Sa-12), Buk-M1 (SA-11), 3SU23-4 Shilka, 2S6M Tun­guska medium and short range surface-to-air missiles and other air-defense systems, highly ef­fective means of communications, radar intelli­gence systems. The Belarusian Air Defense managed to preserve and update the central command post - the best equipped in the Soviet Union. About 80% of the rocket and artillery anti-aircraft formations are mobile. It was of fundamental importance for Belarusian Air Defense, that in 1995 it was included in the CIS united air defense system, and that since April 1, 1996 it has been on joint combat duty with the Russian Air Defense force.

Officers for the Belarusian Armed Forces are trained at special educational institutions. In 1995 the Military Academy of Belarus was set up on the basis of two military educational in­stitutions - the Minsk Air Defense and Rocket School of the Air Defense Forces and the Minsk Higher Military Command School. Its 10 de­partments train officers of 38 specialties for practically all arms of service. Also in 1995 it was given the status of a government institution of secondary special military education for young men.

The Armed Forces are staffed with sergeants and privates mainly according to the territorial principle (border and interior troops being an exception). It must be said that in the Soviet Union conscripts usually did their military ser­vice outside the areas of their permanent resi­dence but in a small country like Belarus the territorial principle was found to be more eco­nomic and also helped to accumulate mobiliza­tion resources improving the quality of conscrip­tion and simplifying the monitoring of con­scripts.

In 1995 Belarus introduced contract service for privates and sergeants. Currently there are over 12,000 of them. Five units are fully staffed with contract sergeants and privates. One of the rea­sons for the rise in the number of contract ser­viceman is a decline in the number of young people of conscript age. In 2001 there were 90,000 of them 54% of whom for various reasons could not be called up for regular army service. Experts predict that in 2006 the number of po­tential conscripts will shrink to 85,000 and 10 years later to 60,000. The annual need of the Armed Forces is for 26,000 and law enforcement agencies for 10,000.

It must be noted that units and formations of the Armed Forces are not deployed evenly throughout the country. There are more of them in the western and central regions. Conse­quently it is not possible to keep all conscripts in the areas of their permanent residence. This applies first of all to conscripts from Gomel and Mogilyov regions in the east of Belarus.


The Armed Forces of Belarus have not changed significantly since the completion of reforms in 1996. In the near future the planned merger of the Air Force and Air Defense will be the sec­ond most important change in the Armed Forces in addition to the continuation of personnel cuts.

An analysis of the defense policy of Belarus prompts the conclusion that though the Belarusian leadership has declared the neutrality of the country, it conducts its defense policy in the belief that national security can be guaranteed primarily through collective security with Rus­sian assistance.

1 Vedomosti Verkhovnogo Soveta Respubliki Belarus, 1992, No. 28.

2 Vedomosti Verkhovnogo Soveta Respubliki Belarus, 1992, No. 28, p. 493.

3 Voyennaya politika Respubliki Belarus,

Minsk, 1994.

4 Armed neutrality is the readiness of a country to defend its neutrality from belligerent coun­tries with the help of its Armed Forces.

5 Belorusskaya Delovaya Gazeta, May 15, 2001.

6 Mikhail Kaurin, "Nash orientir - profession­ally", Armiya, No.1, 1996.

7 "Iz okruga - v armiyu suverennogo gosudar­stva", Armiya, No. 1 1998.

8 Belorusskaya Delovaya Gazeta, March 3, 2000

9 Alexander Zakharenko, "Kadry po prezhnemy reshayut vse", Armiya, No. 1, 1996.

10 The Balance of Western Conventional Forces,

CSIS, 2001.

11 Alexander Panov, "Belarusian Army: scarecrow for Europe", Belarus Now, 1999.

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