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Belarusian military industry in pursuit of profits: Will Polonez systems be supplied to Ukraine?

Few companies in Belarus can make boast of profits now when the country has faced an economic recession. Belarusian industrial and agricultural enterprises have seen net loss for several months already, halting production or producing for stock at best. In this light, the official statistics for the past fiscal year and the 1st quarter are by no means surprising: crude oil refining and production of potassium fertilizers are still the backbone of the Belarusian social and economic model. Yet, in 2015 and early 2016, once a humble company, “558 Aircraft Repair Plant” located in Baranovichi, has occurred in the list of the most profitable companies in Belarus. The company managed to increase its profits tenfold (!) as compared to 2014, according to official statistics. The company saw US$25.6 million profits for 2015 and US$19.2 million for the first months of 2016. Previously, the Minsk Wheeled Tractor Plant was the only profitable industrial facility in the country, as it has many contracts with Russia’s defense industry. All the other military facilities of Belarus, perhaps, except “Peleng” JSC, have received little profits and sometimes even operated at a loss.

By all appearances, there are two reasons behind the recent awakening of the Belarusian military industry: state orders as part of the government-declared modernization of the armed forces and the crisis in Ukraine. These are interconnected reasons. For instance, the above-mentioned Aircraft Repair Plant has recently received a big number of state orders for military production. Last December, it became known that ten MiG-29 fighter jets arrived at the 61st Assault Air Base in Baranovichi.

Those jets had been under repair at “558 Aircraft Repair Base” since April 2014, which enabled the plant to report profits for the past year. The local repairers are boasting of something that is not a reason to feel proud of in other countries. It has turned out that it was the second repair of MiG-29 jets, and even the third repair for one of those aircrafts. This speaks much of the Belarus’ rearmament, though the leadership of that country avoids the issue. Yet, the domestic propaganda says the country has all the chances to make its army one of the most combat-efficient armies on the continent. As a bright example of the successful modernization of Belarus’ armed forces, the leadership of that country demonstrates Polonez (Polonaise) multiple launch rocket system, advanced optics and guidance systems, and other solutions of the local military industrial facilities. However, most of the local production is for export not for the Belarus army. The 588 Aircraft Repair Plant is now engaged in modernization and repair of the warplanes not only for the local Air Force, but also for the foreign ones. It is not hard to guess who except Belarus has ordered “performance upgrade” for MiG-29, Su-27 fighter jets, Mi-8 (Mi-17), Mi-24 (Mi-35) helicopters and others.

The maintenance skills of the Belarusian specialists have repeatedly caught the attention of the country’s southern neighbors that lack their own capacities for repair and modernization of the outdated aircrafts, especially the ones that were used in the military actions in Donbass. It is no secret that the military-technical cooperation of Belarus and Ukraine has intensified drastically recently. Besides repairing aircrafts, Belarus supplied dual-purpose transport, spare parts for Ukraine’s military equipment, optics and guidance systems. In addition to it, the two countries have established joint ventures (for instance, the MAZ trucks assembly by a plant of Bogdan Corporation or joint production of Varta armored vehicles for the National Guard) and much more. The Belarusian military industrial enterprises have resumed profitable activity due to the orders from Ukraine and there are chances that the two countries will continue the cooperation in the field.

The Belarusian producers of military equipment are due to start selling the abovementioned Polonez multiple rocket launch systems to Ukraine. Suffice it to recall that Belarus has recently supplied MZKT-6922 (6x6) special wheeled chassis for air defense systems to its southern neighbor. So far, it is not clear how specifically Ukrainians will be using the chassis, as they fit various types of air defense weapons: Osa, Buk, AZ cannon guided missile system and Kub-M surface to air missile system, and the joint product of Belarus and Ukraine – Stilet short-range air defense system. All these systems are used and will be used by Ukraine in the military actions in Donbass. Unlike previous years when Belarus tried not to publicize its military cooperation with the warring Kiev and minimized the arms supply to Ukraine, now Minsk is no longer preoccupied with such delicate issues. After Belarus declared that everything produced in the country will be sold on the foreign markets too, it no longer seems impossible that Polonez system may occur in Donbass. Actually, rearmament of the Belarus army is nothing but smokescreen for Belarus to benefit from the troubles of its neighbors.

Pavel Yurintsev

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