On 21 September 2022, Vladimir Putin issued a statement that Russia had announced a partial mobilization of its population. Belarus has not formally joined the war against Ukraine. Although it has provided Russian aggressors with its territory to attack Ukraine. However, so far, no Belarusian troops have crossed the border.
At the same time, the chronology of events shows that the training of the Belarusian military has intensified. We present a monitoring of the activities of the Belarusian army in March 2023.
In total, in March we recorded four public speeches by Alexander Lukashenko on military issues, four public statements by the military leadership of Belarus , two facts of putting into active service new weapons, as well as nine facts of redeployment and military exercises both by the Belarusian military (or other security structures) and by Russian troops in Belarus.
On March 1, 2023, information appeared that on February 27, military train No. 962, which included 50 wagons, left the Polonka station in the Baranovichi district. Ten of those wagons were passenger ones, in which, according to the calculations of the railway workers, there were approximately 500 Russian soldiers. In addition to the passenger cars, the train included three covered wagons with military supplies and 37 cars-platforms with equipment.
The train’s destination was Gukovo station in the Rostov region of the Russian Federation. The train arrived there on March 3. After a change of locomotives and locomotive crews, the military train proceeded through Krasnaya Mogila station (Debaltseve department, Donetsk railway) to Debaltseve and Uglegorsk (Russia-occupied territories of Ukraine).
On March 1, 2023, Ruslan Shkodin, military commissar of Vitebsk region, addressed via TikTok Belarusian representatives of the youth subculture Redan and invited them to join military-patriotic clubs instead of “bunching aimlessly like a flock of rams”.
“Stop bunching up and being rams. You are being manipulated. You will incur criminal or administrative liability. If you want to come, be here at 3:00 in the afternoon. If you want an extreme, come to the military-patriotic clubs and to contract service,” he said in the video.
On March 2, 2023, the State Military Industrial Committee of the Republic of Belarus reported that a prototype tank was being tested at the 230th combined arms firing range. The above-mentioned prototype model of tank T-72BM2 was developed by specialists of the Borisov 140th repair plant in the framework of development work “Zaslon” Tests of the tank were conducted both in daytime and at night. The aim of the test was the confirmation of the tactical and technical characteristics of the presented sample.
On March 2, 2023, Interior Minister Ivan Kubrakov said during a press conference that the Belarusian special forces and internal troops were equipped with strike drones, and police was engaged in a mass purchase of unmanned drones. According to the Minister, specialists are being trained with the assistance of the Belarusian Defense Ministry in order to work with such drones.
On March 3, 2023, the military exercises involving territorial bodies of the Border Guard Service ended. According to the State Border Committee of Belarus, planned training activities were held in border guard groups and units from February 17 to March 3. The State Border Committee checked the readiness of units for deployment, as well as capability of operating effectively away from their permanent deployment sites.
On March 3, 2023, Interior Minister Ivan Kubrakov said in an interview that those people, who could not be recruited for certain reasons in the armed forces, would be “conscripted” into the people’s volunteer army.
“The people’s volunteer army is planned to be created under local authorities, but the direct leadership of such people’s militias and training of it will be exercised by internal affairs officers. The level can be very different: from the head of the district police department to a district police inspector. Who will be drafted into the people’s volunteer army? These will be people who cannot be mobilized for certain reasons. These will be people who reached the age of retirement, but they’ll be ready to defend their homeland, ready to protect their homes and families. It doesn’t matter if it’s a woman or a man. Women, by the way, are sometimes with more combative nature than men,” Kubrakov said.
On March 7, 2023, State Border Committee of Belarus informed that border guards in Pinsk district would conduct combat shooting on March 9, 10, 14, 15, 16, 17, 21, 22, 23, 24, 28, 29, 30 and 31 from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Local residents were asked not to approach the shooting range near the village of Vyzhlovici.
“The danger zone covers an area of approximately 3,900 m from the northwestern outskirts of the settlement Vyzhlovichi and further in a northwestern direction for a width of 2,390m. In order to avoid accidents, staying in this area at the indicated time is strictly prohibited,” the message said.
On March 7, 2023, the White House’s Coordinator for Strategic Communications at the National Security Council (NSC), John Kirby, said at the press briefing that the US administration saw no indication of both Alexander Lukashenko’s and the Belarusian Armed Forces’ intention to expand support for Russia in the war against Ukraine.
Kirby explained the US authorities had not seen any evidence that the Belarusian army or official Minsk planned to support Russia more tangibly. The NSC officer said that according to the US side, Belarus did not intend “to send its militaries to Ukraine”.
On March 9, 2023, Viktor Dovnar, Head of the Main Department of Educational Work and Youth Policy of the Ministry of Education, told journalists that Belarusian schools were staffed by leaders of military-patriotic education by 93%.
“As of today, general secondary education institutions are staffed with supervisors of military-patriotic education by 93%, while the staffing rate for colleges is 52%Work on staffing with these specialists is carried out jointly with the Ministry of Defense and district military enlistment offices. In addition, 39 resource centers have been created around the country to accumulate the work of military-patriotic education leaders,” the head of the main directorate said.
On March 10, 2023, Alexander Lukashenko signed Decree No. 66 “On сall-up of reserve officers for active duty”. The document assumes conscription of up to 230 men under the age of 27 into the armed forces and call-up of up to 20 persons into bodies of the border service. By implication, all conscripts must have previously been trained in appropriate training programmes for reserve officers at military departments or faculties, received a commission as an officer and be enlisted in the reserve.
On March 14, 2023, the press service of the Belarusian Defense Ministry reported that in March, Belarus would hold a scheduled call-up of conscripts for training camps. The ministry noted that the Armed Forces “continue planned activities on further improving the combat and mobilization readiness of the military units and formations”.
“During the training camp the conscripts will improve their professional knowledge, get acquainted with new models of weapons, military and special equipment, take part in planned training sessions and exercises,” the Defense Ministry said.
On March 15, 2023, in Minsk planned draft began for those liable for military service to military training. The Ministry of Defense stressed that the activities were carried out “to restore and improve practical skills according to one’s military training specialties”.
“A number of activities have been carried out so far. We are ready to send conscripts to the 7th Engineer Regiment and the 120th Guards separate mechanized brigade,” said Colonel Yevgeny Bratskov, the military commissar of the Oktyabrsky district of Minsk.
On March 17, 2023, the Commander of Interior Ministry Troops Nikolai Karpenkov reported that Belarus planned to form new special-purpose units. According to the Major General, following the Lynx, Smerch and Honor units, a Berkut unit has been formed in military part 3214.
“This unit’s staffing is coming to an end, the soldiers completing their compulsory military service in the Special Forces brigade are coming here for contract service,” Karpenkov said. He emphasized that Berkut’s primary task was the same as that of other recently created units, namely combating sabotage and reconnaissance groups, as well as illegal armed formations.
On March 18, 2023, Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs Nikolai Karpenkov spoke about how the new weaponry, namely strike drones, would be used by the internal troops under his control. According to Karpenkov, an unmanned drone could be used, for example, for finding a lost person in the forest. But he paid more attention to the opportunities of using drones in case of mass protests. The Deputy Minister pointed out that the internal troops had already been trained not only in carrying out reconnaissance with drones, but also in bombing.
On March 20, 2023, the level of preparation for the Minsk regional territorial defense was checked in accordance with the training plan. The inspection was supervised and led by Minsk Region Head Alexander Turchin and Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces – First Deputy Defense Minister Viktor Gulevich.
The established military units of the Borisov region territorial troops had to solve combat training tasks jointly with the internal affairs bodies for both protecting critical infrastructure facilities and maintaining order under martial law. About 200 conscripts were called up from the reserve for military training. Furthermore, the issues on formation and training of people’s volunteer unit were worked out in one of the village councils in Borisov district.
On March 20, 2023, in the village of Oberovshchina, Kamenetz district, a corpse of a serviceman with signs of suicide was found in the premises of Vysoko-Lytovsk border control unit. The State Border Committee reported that the 19-year-old private was drafted in October 2022 and served in the Brest Border Guard Group.
On March 21, 2023, at meeting with his power unit, Alexander Lukashenko said he was alarmed by the facts of crimes among servicemen, including those committed by officers of various security agencies.
“On the whole, not everything is going smoothly for us with the state of military discipline. We perfectly see and understand everything that is happening on the borders of our country. The question which needs to be answered it is whether we fully ensure the security of our state and citizens,” he said. Lukashenko asked not only the Defense Ministry, but other power structures as well, what problems they have and what should be done to resolve them.
On March 21, 2023, the Defense Ministry press service said that the North-Western Operational Command (NWOC) would hold a joint staff training to work out in practice the use of troops in a defensive operation.
The agency stressed that the exercise was planned. The aim of the exercise is “to raise the level of coherence of the operational command directorates, formations and military units to a level that ensures effective and high-quality work during the decision-making and planning phase of the operational command’s defensive operation”.
On March 21, 2023, special tactical exercises of the Central Internal Affairs Directorate of the Minsk City Executive Committee were held at the airfield in Lipki. The purpose of the exercises was to test both the coherence of actions in special conditions and new equipment. Particular attention was paid to the interaction between services and units in suppressing an attempted attack on settlement or critical infrastructure by illegal armed groups and ensuring the safety of citizens in such a case.
On March 23, 2023, it became known that the Belarusian company Mogoteх, a well-known textile manufacturer inside the country and the largest producer of military clothing in Belarus, has plans to launch a project in Chechnya on sewing military uniforms. The Chechen local company Erzu will become a partner of a Belarusian company in Russia’s Caucasus region; production of military uniforms will begin there this year.
Minister of Chechnya on Industry and Energy Adam Khakimov told journalists about that. At the first stage the joint-venture company will plan to sew products worth 50 million Russian rubles (approximately $650,000).
On March 23, 2023, the press service of the Belarusian Defence Ministry reported that a new anti-aircraft missile regiment had been formed in Belarus. “In forming the regiment, special attention was paid to the creation of modern military infrastructure and educational material resources of military preparation, the provision of comfortable accommodation conditions for military personnel, as well as issues concerning social support for soldiers and members of their families,” an announcement by the Belarusian Defense Ministry about the creation of a new military unit said.
On March 24, 2023, the press service of the Belarusian Defense Ministry said that one of the material support units of the 120th Separate Mechanized Brigade was in readiness to perform tasks for one’s intended purpose. In particular, it’s planned to remove weapons, military and special equipment from storage for marching to the designated area.
On March 25, 2023, Vladimir Putin in the TV programme “Moscow. Kremlin. Putin” on the “Russia 24” TV channel said that Minsk and Moscow had agreed on the deployment of tactical nuclear weapons into Belarus, about which, according to the Russian president, Alexander Lukashenko had long requested. By July 1, the construction of a storage facility for it will be completed.
Vladimir Putin said that he simply copied the actions of the US, “We are not transferring nuclear weapons. And the US is not transferring to its allies. We’re basically doing the same thing they’ve been doing for decades. They have allies in certain countries and they prepare carriers, they train crews for them. We are going to do the same thing.” He also reminded that Russia had already given Belarus the Iskander complex, which could be a nuclear weapon carrier, as well as helped to refurbish 10 planes of the Belarusian Air Force for the use of such weapons.
On March 27, 2023, Belarusian state TV showed what the new uniform of Belarusian conscripts and special operations forces looked like. The uniform was demonstrated by Tatsiana Liakh, head of the laboratory of the Armed Forces’ 2336th clothing warehouse in Borisov.
The new uniforms for conscripts, including developed winter and summer sets, began arriving at military units in December 2022. They included a new jacket from raincoat fabrics and a new military headgear. TV crews were shown testing the winter set’s fabric on a test stand – it withstood a load of up to 1,800 newtons. All materials used have undergone a similar test drive.
On March 28, 2023, by Alexander Lukashenko’s decree, Andrei Fedin was appointed Deputy Defense Minister for Armament – Chief of Armament of the Belarussian Armed Forces. His predecessor was relieved of his post due to illness.
At the same time, Colonel Vitaly Shestak was appointed to the post of First Deputy Chief of Armament of the Armed Forces – Chief of the Armament Headquarters, which was held by Andrei Fedin. Major General Sergei Simonenko has been relieved of the post of Deputy Defense Minister for Armament – Chief of Armament of the Armed Forces by Alexander Lukashenko and dismissed from military service due to illness with the right to wear military uniform and rank badges.
On March 29, 2023, Colonel Oleg Turchinovich became commander of the 61st Fighter Aviation Base and head of the Baranovichi garrison. 41-year-old Turchinovich was born in Pinsk, where he graduated from secondary school No 3. He received higher education at the Military Academy of Belarus, as well as at the Air Force Engineering Academy named after Professor N.E. Zhukovsky of the Russian Defense Ministry. In 2003, he began his service as a senior pilot of the 927th fighter aviation base of Northwest Operational Tactical Air Force and Air Defense Command. He was deputy commander of an aviation squadron aircraft unit on MiG-29 of the 927th IAB, later he headed it.
Since 2010 he has served at the 61st Fighter Air Base. He was deputy commander and commander of an aviation squadron aircraft unit on MiG-29, Chief of Staff , deputy commander for flight training. From 2020 to 2023 served as Chief of Staff – First Deputy Commander of the airbase.
On March 30, 2023, the spokesman for the CSTO Joint Staff, Vladislav Shchegrikovich, acknowledged that the CSTO would hold five different military exercises in Belarus in 2023.
According to his words, joint and special exercises are planned in Belarus to combine training of various components of the CSTO troops: joint exercise “Interaction-2023” with the CSTO collective rapid reaction forces, a special training “Search-2023” with the intelligence forces and means, a special training “Echelon-2023” with the forces and means of material and technical support of the CSTO Troops (Collective Forces).
“For the first time in Belarus, a special exercise “Barrier-2023” with a joint formation of radiation, chemical and biological protection and medical support will be carried out. A special exercise “Scala-2023″ is also planned with subunits of the Ministry of Emergency Situations which were allocated to the Collective Rapid Response Forces of the CSTO,” Shchegrikovich summarized.
On March 30, 2023, Aleksandr Lukashenko made a number of personnel decisions concerning the Armed Forces of Belarus. According to the decree, Colonel Vladimir Bely has been appointed Commander of the Western Operational Command of the Armed Forces. He was relieved of his previous position as head of the General Staff Faculty – deputy head of the educational institution Military Academy of the Republic of Belarus. Major General Igor Demidenko, who had held the post of commander so far, was dismissed from his post and enlisted at the disposal of the Belarusian Defense Minister until May 9, 2023.
On March 31, 2023, during his message to the people and parliament, Alexander Lukashenko acknowledged that Russian troops were trained and received material supplies in Belarus. Moreover, the dictator stated that he “brought them here himself”.
Lukashenko also stated that Russian units in Belarus were trained by five hundred Belarusian officers. “Сombat coordination, combat training is conducted. Where necessary, troops are armed, materially supported,” he said. According to him, all this is taking place “under our command – Russia is not up to it, it has other things to do”.
“So, don’t scare people here that Putin has taken over Belarus: we, I manage these troops. It was I who brought them here to train, prepare, equip, teach working if, God forbid, they have to do it,” Lukashenko said.
On March 31, 2023, during his address to the people and parliament, Alexander Lukashenko stated that he was ready to use tactical nuclear weapons (which Russia had not yet delivered to Belarus) in case of a threat to the existence of Belarus.
Lukashenka recalled that Belarus had received the Iskander missile system, which could carry nuclear warheads, “Our re-equipped aircraft can also carry a nuclear warhead. You have heard from the President of Russia about the joint plans to build relevant infrastructure on the territory of Belarus. I just want to make it clear: all the infrastructure has been set up and it’s ready.” He noted that the Belarusian military had already been instructed “immediately to restore the sites in Belarus where Topol missile systems with nuclear warheads used to be deployed”.
“If necessary, Putin and I will decide and bring strategic nuclear weapons here as well. And they should understand it, the scoundrels who are there abroad today trying to explode us from inside and outside. We will stop at nothing to defend our countries, our states and our people. At least this way we will make them reckon with our people, if they don’t understand another language,” declared Lukashenko.
On March 31, 2023, in the Novogrudok and Korelichi districts of the Grodno region, a military training for units of territorial troops and territorial defense command bodies started (it will last until 21 April).
The military gathering is part of the training plan for territorial troops to improve their combat and mobilization readiness and check the reality for implementation of mobilization plans within established time limits. This military training also instructs officials from district executive committees and military enlistment offices on how to form territorial troops and prepare them for their tasks. In addition, during the military exercises, the issues of the use of territorial troops together with units and military units of the Armed Forces will be elaborated.
On March 31, 2023, during his address to the nation and the parliament, Alexander Lukashenko stated that that Belarus would control tactical nuclear weapons planned to be deployed in the country by Russia. This is how the dictator answered the question of how the management of the tactical nuclear arsenal planned to be deployed in Belarus would be structured, and whether the country’s opinion would be taken into account at the decisive moment.