Belarus Security Update - 17 July - 23 July
BLUF: The Belarusian Armed Forces did not change their posture over the past seven days. Despite the decreased activities of Belarusian military officials, many noteworthy political developments occurred. Wagner PMC fighters also moved into the country in more significant numbers while already deployed personnel continued training Belarusian servicemen, including in Brest, near the border with Poland.
Last week, Belarusian officials adopted three new laws on military affairs. A new First Deputy Chief of Belarusian General Staff was also appointed. Although the activity of the military representatives remained low, the training tempo of the Belarusian Armed Forces remained heightened. Although exercises focused mainly on the Belarusian Special Operation Forces (SOF), elements of the mechanised, specialised formations, reservists, and Territorial Defence Forces also conducted exercises. Wagner fighters were involved in some of these drills.
Last week, three new legal acts pertained to domestic military affairs were introduced.
On Monday, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko signed a law regulating the creation and functioning of the Russo-Belarusian training centres and the law on the People’s Militia.
The first document legitimises the creation of joint centres based on Russian in Belarusian military units and defines the interaction between both Ministries of Defence (MoD). According to the Belarusian MoD, the main tasks of the centres will be concentrated around four key areas. Specifically, the preparation of military personnel to undertake combat tasks within the framework of ongoing joint training programs (1), unification of the combat training (2), practical training measures linked to the use of weapons, military and special equipment (3) and exchange of experiences (4).
Officially, all training activities will be carried out per the centres' joint training plans and regulations (or other legal acts of both states). The Belarusian MoD pointed out that comprehensive classes, field exits, tactical-special and tactical-combat tasks will be the main training activities conducted within the centres. Moreover, joint Russo-Belarusian command will hold mutual drills and special-tactical exercises.
Currently, there are most likely three Russo-Belarusian training centres. Two are located in Belarus and are responsible for training Su-30SM fighters crews (61st Fighter Aviation Base) and S-300/S-400 air defence complex’s crews (based on the 1st Air Defence Regiment in Labno). Moreover, the Russian 333rd Combat Training Center of the Western Military Districts (in Mulino) hosts the third centre responsible for training Belarusian mechanised and tank formations. The possibly fourth centre will appear in the Kaliningrad Oblast soon.
Moving on, the law on the People’s Militia created a legal basis for Belarusian citizens' (voluntary) participation in upholding martial law and assisting internal troops.
The People's Militia will consist of volunteers without existing military obligations and without any health or personal issues that would hinder the fulfilment of tasks. Local authorities and voluntary donations will finance the organisation. The latter, especially, will be used to obtain personal equipment. Local government bodies can decide about the number of militia subunits in the region and refuse to enrol certain citizens (previous detentions and arrests, interning or disabilities). Employers of the People’s Militia members will be obliged to release them from work occasionally for military drills but will also continue to provide them with regular salaries. However, as the MoD mentioned, participation in the organisation will not exclude citizens from potential mobilisation. During their actions, militia members will be deployed only in their local territorial subjects. The Belarusian MoD will provide them with the necessary weapons and munitions. We need to stress that People's Militia is only to be established during martial law. Consequently, it will be disbanded once the law is lifted.
After introducing these laws, Lukashenko met with Belarusian Prosecutor General Andrey Shved. The Belarusian leader asked Shved to provide a report on “prosecutor supervision” over the Belarusian Armed Forces and other power agencies. Lukashenko noticed that Belarusian Prosecutors Office had slightly “moved away” from supervising Belarusian Army, as well as the other “uniformed formations” – Ministry of Emergencies, Internal Troops, KDB (KGB), etc.
After the meeting, Andrey Shved spoke with journalists and confirmed that Belarus would reform its prosecution system and would (most likely) create the Main Military Prosecutor's Office. He added that the current political-military situation around Belarus justified such a measure. However, he also noted that this issue would be further discussed in the “inner circle”, which included representatives of the legal and uniformed formations.
On Saturday, Lukashenko left for Russia to participate in a working meeting with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin.
Before his departure, Lukashenko signed a law which gave the All-Belarusian People's Assembly (ABPA) authority to approve new military doctrines, concepts of national security. The Assembly will also have the authority to impose a state of emergency or martial law. According to the Belarusian President's website, the Assembly is “the highest representative body of people's power of the Republic of Belarus (…) which determines the strategic areas of development of society and the state, ensures the inviolability of the constitutional system, the continuity of generations, and civil accord. It was initially established in 1996 and have met several times since then.
The Assembly includes:
President of the Republic of Belarus;
Representatives of the legislative, executive, and judicial branches;
Representatives of local Councils of Deputies;
Representatives of civil society.
Membership also includes former presidents, so Lukashenko would retain his vote even if he departs the presidency of Belarus. According to constitutionnet.org, over one-third of the ABPA will consist of ex officio delegates whose loyalty had been checked several times during their careers.
The decision to pass on the authority to declare martial law to ABPA could be considered in two ways. Firstly, if Putin pushes him to become more militarily involved in Ukraine, Lukashenko can turn to the ABPA, get the declining vote, and tell Putin that there is nothing he can do. But, if the vote favours joining a war, Lukashenko may turn to Belarusian citizens and say he didn’t want to go to war, but people’s representatives voted, and he needs to abide by this decision. One way or the other, he is covered. That said, we assess that the President did not relinquish his authority to announce martial law. He may turn to ABPA to obtain a vote, but this is not mandatory.
Last week, additional Wagner units arrived in Belarus. They continued to arrive almost daily using the same way (from the Russo-Belarusian border near Zvenchatka to the camp in Tsel village).
These transfers included:
About 102 vehicles (at least 19 UAZ-2206, 21 trucks, nine buses, 11 trailers, and 42 various light vehicles);
More than 80 vehicles (at least 18 trucks, 20 pick-ups, ~20 UAZ vehicles, as well as other trucks and minibuses);
About 90-100 vehicles (including UAZs, pick-ups, various trucks, cars, fuel trucks);
About 100-120 vehicles (including various trucks, trailers, and pick-ups);
More than 50 vehicles (including trucks, UAZs, pick-ups and buses);
About 100-150 vehicles (including mainly trucks, pick-ups, and buses, but also engineering equipment and cranes);
More than 30 trucks (including those towing trailers);
According to the Belarusian Hajun military monitoring team, at least 382-400 Wagner vehicles (2,000-2,500 personnel) arrived in Belarus between 11JUL and 18JUL.
Yevgeny Prigozin, Wagner’s head, had also arrived in Belarus for the fourth time on Tuesday.
Around midday, Embraer Legacy 600 (RA-02795) landed at Machulischy Air Base. After that, Prigozin visited Wagner’s camp in Tsel to meet with his forces.
During the meeting, Prigozhin greeted his "troops" and thanked them for their service. After referring to the current frontline situation (considered "shameful"), he noted that mercenaries deployed in Belarus would be responsible for "making Belarusian Army second in the world". According to Prigozhin, Wagner fighters would fight alongside the Belarusian Armed Forces. He stressed that every mercenary should treat Belarusians like brothers.
Prigozhin called his troops to exercise and increase their (training) level. He also announced the arrival of the official organisation's flag from Wagner’s former base in Molkino. He handed the flag to an unknown fighter called “Sergey”, who would probably command the organisation's forces in Belarus.
Interestingly, Wagner’s founder, Dmitry Utkin, also appeared in the video.
Also, on Tuesday, "Wagnerities" participated in combat training classes with the 103rd Airborne Brigade. Two days later, they started to lecture personnel from another Belarusian SOF subunit – the 38th Air Assault Brigade.
On Saturday, a Ukrainian Border Guards Service representative, Col. Andrey Demchenko, stated that about 5,000 WAGNER personnel are located in Belarus.
We should also note that Prigozhin registered his company in Belarus. Officially, the organisation is registered in the Tsel village and will deal with real estate management. The company's authorised capital is 200 BYN (~80 USD).
Last week, the Belarusian military officials showed no noteworthy activities.
On Tuesday, Maj. Gen. Andrey Matiyevich was appointed the First Deputy Chief of Belarusian General Staff. Matiyevich previously served as the Chief of Territorial Defence Directorate (Deputy Chief of General Staff). Placing him so high within the General Staff hierarchy probably confirms Minsk’s focus on the development of TDF forces.
Matiyevich was born in 1971 in Bolshoye Olzhevo (near Lida). He studied at Minsk Suvorov School (1986-1988) and graduated from Almaty Higher Combined Arms Commanding School with a gold medal (1992). Between 2003 and 2010, he studied at the Russian Combined Arms and General Staff Academies, which he graduated with gold medals and honours, respectively.
During his military career, Matiyevich occupied various positions in the Main Operational Directorate of the Belarusian General Staff. Since 2020, he headed the Territorial Defence Directorate. In 2021, he was promoted to Major General. His predecessor, Maj. Due to age, Gen. Igor Korol was transferred to the military reserve (9FEB).
Matiyevich replaced Maj. Gen. Igor Korol, who was transferred to the military reserve (9FEB) due to his age. Korol previously commanded the 72nd Guards Joint Training Centre.
Last week, the Belarusian SOF formations presented a heightened training tempo.
On Monday, service members of the 103rd Airborne Brigade personnel took part in the combat training classes held at the Losvido Training Ground, which also involved Wagner instructors. Two days later, the 38th Air Assault Brigade started a special-tactical exercise with "Wagnerities".
According to the Belarusian MoD, four-day-long drills started at the Brestsky Training Ground to increase Belarusian military formations' coherence and training level using mercenaries' experience, which came from real combat operations. Belarusian servicemen focused on the issue of interaction between various subunits, the use of UAVs and practised manoeuvring under a mock enemy’s fire. They also trained in employing camouflage, psychological preparedness, medical evacuation and indirect grenade launcher shooting.
At the same time, ten servicemen from the 38th Air Assault Brigade conducted parachute jumps from an An-2 aircraft. These jumps occurred above the Brestsky Training Ground but were presumably unrelated to the ongoing Wagner drills.
Over the past seven days, mechanised formations also trained.
On Tuesday, personnel of the 78th Mechanised Battalion (6th Mechanised Brigade) took part in the complex tactical exercise with live ammo firing. During its course, a BTR-82A-equipped subunit blocked and neutralised a sabotage and reconnaissance group of a mock enemy, most likely at the Gozhsky Training Ground. A day later, an analogical training event involved the brigade’s tank subunit. During its course, tank platoons conducted live ammo firing.
On Friday, the 227th Combined Arms Training Ground hosted tactical firing classes of the 120th Mechanised Brigade. During the drills, an unspecified mechanised subunit trained defensive operations. Personnel carried out BMP-2 and rifle firing, combined with tactical medicine classes. Besides, soldiers of the 355th Tank Battalion (120th Mechanised Brigade) underwent military topography training classes a day later.
Other noteworthy exercises involved specialised formations. Specifically, the 8th Radiotechnical Brigade held a command-staff exercise between Tuesday and Thursday. The drill involved the deployment of a field command post and starting (radiotechnical) combat duty near Kletsk. They also deployed anti-air assets (ZSU-23-2) to protect their operations from opposing forces’ UAVs.
Col. Igor Tischenko, the Chief of Belarusian Radiotechnical Troops, supervised the exercise.
On Wednesday, the Minsk Military Commandant's Office soldiers participated in the firing classes at the Uruchcha Training Ground. 36th Road and Bridge Brigade officers underwent practical driving lessons two days later.
Last week, training actions engaging reserve servicemen also occurred.
On Tuesday, the 841st Artillery Group of the 11th Mechanised Brigade started the induction planned induction of reservists. A similar event also occurred in Brest, where local military commissariats called up about 25 reservists, who will be responsible for maintaining military equipment in unspecified military formation(s).
On the other hand, the Belarusian MoD informed about the end of the Territorial Defence Forces (TDF) inspection held in the Salihorsk region. The command-staff exercise traditionally finished practical actions of Belarusian TDF reservists, involving detachment of the People's Militia and some notable military vehicles.
Besides, the Belarusian Air Force presented significant training activity in the first half of the week (Monday-Thursday).
Over the past seven days, only two movements of Belarusian military equipment were noteworthy:
at least six BTRs with a few MAZ trucks headed towards Brest from Kobryn;
four MAZ-6317 vehicles were moving towards Osipovichi from Maryina Horka;
Last week, three military echelons were observed. The first appeared at Ozerische Railway Station, where at least ten engineering vehicles were loaded onto a train (120th Mechanised Brigade), while the second included elements of the 740th Air Defence Regiment (at least six OSA anti-air systems, two R-145BM command vehicles, as well as a few trucks and supporting vehicles) spotted in Barysaw on Friday. A day later, a single echelon with at least four OSA anti-air systems, a ZSU-23-4 SHILKA, a BTR, MT-LB, and a few trucks were moving through the Institute of Culture Railway Station in Minsk.
Russian military activity in Belarus
Last week, the Russian forces deployed in Belarus presented minimal activity. Despite the arrival of three cargo aircraft (An-12: RF-12560, An-26: RF-36126 and IL-76: RF-86872), the only noteworthy event occurred on Wednesday.
On this day, the Russian air component underwent significant relocation.
At least nine Su-30SM and Su-34 aircraft departed from Machulischy to Baranovichi Air Base (where runway repair finished). A few hours later, nine Russian helicopters did the opposite and arrived at Machulischy Air Base. On Thursday, a single Mi-24 repeated the latter movement. According to Belarusian Hajun, at least 11 Russian helicopters currently remain in Belarus.