Belarus - Military Personnel
About a quarter of the active personnel in the 48,000 strong military are in the air force and air defense, and another quarter in the ground forces. As of 2019 reserve forces numbered approximately 290,000 members, anumber which has remained unchanged for decades.
When Belarus achieved independent statehood, it acquired a strong military force that had previously formed the Belarusian Military District in the Soviet Union. Because of its geographical position to the rear of the frontline forces of the Warsaw Pact, the inheritance included an extensive array of heavy weapons and an oversized army. Because of Belarus's geopolitical importance and its absorption of troops withdrawn from the countries of the former Warsaw Pact, it was the most militarized republic of the former Soviet Union. Even in 1993, it had a ratio of one soldier to forty-three civilians, compared with one to ninety-eight in Ukraine and one to 634 in Russia.
Before the dissolution of the Soviet Union, 243,000 Soviet troops were stationed in the Belorussian SSR, with an additional 180,000 troops belonging to the local commands of the strategic rocket and air forces. This situation changed only in May 1992, when Belarus abolished the Belorussian Military District and subordinated all troops on its soil to its own Ministry of Defense.
At the end of 1992, ethnic Russians accounted for nearly half the Belarusian conscripts and some 80 percent of the officer corps. Since then, the ethnic composition of the officers has been changing gradually in favor of Belarusians as a result of legislative acts, but the process is slow It will take years before the republic has its own Belarusian-led armed forces that are politically reliable and dedicated to Belarusian nationhood.
Another aspect of the nationality issue was that in 1993 some 40,000 Belarusian natives served as officers in the armed forces of other former Soviet republics. Many of them wished to return home for either patriotic or economic reasons, but such possibilities were limited because of the shortage of housing and the republic's scheduled military reductions in general. In addition, there was a serious imbalance in the officer-to-conscript ratio: three officers for every seven conscripts. In accordance with its stated goal of becoming a neutral state and in accordance with its new defense doctrine, the government planned to decrease the number of its troops by some 60 percent, from 243,000 to 96,000 (including up to 22,000 officers) by the beginning of 1995. The armed forces employed 64,000 civilians. Further reductions were expected to reduce the total armed forces to a strength of 75,000 or even 60,000.
Citizens who meet the requirements established by the Law of the Republic of Belarus “ On Military Duty and Military Service ” may voluntarily enter military service under a contract. A contract for military service is concluded by a citizen with the Ministry of Defense of the Republic of Belarus or other government agency that provides for military service.
In 1995 conscription was for eighteen months, with alternative service available. The term of military service by conscription is established:
- For military personnel who do not have higher education undergoing military service - 18 months;
- For military personnel with higher education undergoing military service - 12 months;
- For military personnel who have been trained in military departments or faculties according to training programs for junior commanders who have passed the exams established by the training programs and are in military service, 6 months;
- For conscripts serving in military service - 12 months.
Under the Alternative Service Act in 2015, conscientious objection to military service can be exercised on religious grounds only and is not extended to persons who hold non-religious beliefs grounded in conscience. There is a difference in the length of alternative service compared with military service between those with and without higher education, with alternative service for the latter category being twice as long as military service. The justification given for this difference is to prevent abuses and avoid an increase in the number of requests for alternative service.
In 1994 reserve forces numbered approximately 290,000 members, who had had military service in the previous five years. Service in reserve - a type of military service consisting in compulsory performance by citizens who are subject to conscription for military service, military duty by serving in military units, other organizations of the Armed Forces or transport troops of the Republic of Belarus in classes and training camps in order to obtain military accounting specialty without termination of employment.
In the early 1990s, an issue in the training of troops was the teaching and use of the Belarusian language. There was resistance in the Ministry of Defense and in the armed forces themselves to the idea of using the Belarusian language; officials claimed that the Belarusian armed forces were being "politicized." But little progress had been made in 1994 toward the use of Belarusian in the military, as called for by the draft law entitled About the Armed Forces of the Republic of Belarus, which stipulated the use of both the Belarusian and the Russian languages, with a gradual transition to Belarusian.
Support of Belarus-Russia Regional Group of Forces has been provided since 2000. This cooperation line implies activities aimed at joint planning of the group’s use, improvement and support of the group’s command and control, development of unified military systems of intelligence, communications, logistics and technical support, etc., improvement of material resources and service life period of military infrastructure objects located in Belarus which are planned for joint use by forces. According to annual plans of joint activities for support of the Regional Group of Forces, various joint operational and combat trainings are held. Belarusian and Russian units and military authorities participate in joint exercises and trainings on the territories of both countries regularly.
On 16-22 September 2011, the Union Shield 2011 joint operational exercise of Belarusian and Russian armed forces was held in Russia. It allowed improving interoperability of Belarusian and Russian forces, interaction of military authorities and units, as well as their field craft when accomplishing missions jointly. The exercise demonstrated strong allied relations and firm positions of the Union State as a key geopolitical subject in Europe.
Training of Belarusian service members in military schools of Russia’s Defence Ministry before 2008 was conducted in accordance with the Union State’s programme for training of Belarusian service members in military schools of Russia’s Defence Ministry for 1998-2008. Under this programme, 842 military members: 435 trainees, including 2 Ph.D. candidates and 2 doctor’s degree candidates, and 407 cadets were trained in 38 military schools of Russia.
Since 2008, trainees and cadets have been trained in Russian military schools according to the Decree of the Russian Government No. 832 of 23 December 2004 on preferential training of personnel and technical staff of foreign states in educational establishments of higher, secondary and further vocational education and training (retraining of specialists) supervised by Russia’s Defence Ministry.
There were numerous reports of hazing of conscripts into the army that included beatings and other forms of physical and psychological abuse. Some of those cases reportedly resulted in deaths. For example, in October 2017 a senior official from the Investigative Committee announced a criminal investigation into alleged hazing and violence that preceded the discovery of the body of a 21-year-old soldier, Aliaksandr Korzhych, in the basement of his military barracks near Barysau. On November 5, the Minsk regional court sentenced three former sergeants to nine, seven, and six years in prison respectively for driving Korzhych to suicide by abusing and maltreating him. Authorities also charged the three with theft, bribery, and abuse of power. The sergeants claimed at hearings that investigators pressured them into testifying against themselves and admitting to the charges. Korzhych’s former commanders, Senior Lieutenant Paval Sukavenka and Chief Warrant Officer Artur Virbal, were tried separately for abuse of power and sentenced on October 19 to six and four years respectively.
At a press conference on February 14, Defense Minister Andrey Raukou committed to eradicating hazing and said the ministry had opened 48 criminal cases to investigate allegations of mistreatment and bullying in the armed forces. Accepting Korzhych’s case as his “personal fault,” Raukou said that the army registered three cases of suicide in 2017 and four cases in 2016. Raukou said that many of the conscripts involved in hazing had mental and psychological problems, histories of alcohol and drug abuse, criminal records, and lacked motivation to serve in the army.
On July 31, the Supreme Court reported that between January and June courts across the country convicted 28 officers on charges related to bullying, hazing, and abuse of power in the armed forces. Courts convicted 31 officers on similar charges in 2017. For example, on March 30, a district court in Barysau sentenced an army warrant officer to five years in jail for abusing his powers, taking bribes, and beating conscripts.
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