February 17, 2023

Belarus agrees to produce ground attack aircraft for Russian military

Institute for the Study of War

The Kremlin will likely subsume elements of Belarus’ defense industrial base (DIB) as part of Moscow’s larger effort to reequip the Russian military to support a protracted war against Ukraine. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko stated during a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on February 17 that Belarus’ aerospace industry is ready to produce Su-25 ground attack aircraft for the Russian military with the support of Russian technology transfers.[1] Lukashenko also stated that the Belarusian state-run Minsk Automobile Plant began producing components to support Russian KAMAZ (a Russian heavy-duty truck producer) products and expressed willingness to help Russia produce electronic components to substitute for lost Western imports.[2] Lukashenko additionally stated that Belarus is implementing 100 percent of unspecified defense and security cooperation agreements that Belarus and Russia agreed to “three months ago.”[3]

Additional Su-25s and truck parts are likely not critical material for the success of Russia’s long-term war effort. The Kremlin may commandeer Belarusian factories and retool them to produce critical materiel that the Russian military needs, Lukashenko’s statements notwithstanding. The Russians might also seek to repurpose Russian factories currently involved in or tooled for the production of Su-25s and trucks to produce more urgently needed materiel.  ISW previously assessed that Russian forces began using Belarusian training grounds and trainers to train mobilized Russians to compensate for Russia‘s degraded training capacity.[4] The Kremlin appears to be similarly incorporating elements of Belarus’ DIB to augment Russian defense output as Putin seeks to reinvigorate Russia’s DIB to support a protracted war with Ukraine.[5]

Lukashenko confirmed that Belarus has implemented more Union State integration programs – marking progress in the Kremlin’s steady pressure campaign to formalize the Russian-Belarusian Union State across decades. Lukashenko stated on February 17 that Russia and Belarus implemented 80 percent of the 28 Union State programs including programs on customs and tax – a significant achievement in the Kremlin’s campaign to formalize the Union State.[6] Lukashenko has historically resisted implementing the Union State integration programs by stalling specifically on complex customs and tax harmonization issues since at least 2019.[7] Lukashenko’s statement that Belarus has finally ratified Union State programs on customs and tax issues, therefore, marks a significant Russian gain. Lukashenko stated that the remaining unimplemented Union State programs concern humanitarian issues.[8]

Lukashenko is likely paying for his rejection of Putin’s larger demand for Belarusian forces to join the invasion against Ukraine by making smaller concessions that he has stonewalled for years, as ISW assessed.[9] Lukashenko’s belated concessions and continued refusal to commit Belarusian forces to the Russian invasion indicate Lukashenko’s determination to keep Belarusian forces from directly participating in the Russian war.

The Kremlin’s gains in Belarus underscore that Putin’s imperialistic ambitions transcend Ukraine and that containing the Russian threat requires the West’s sustained attention. Putin will very likely make significant gains in restoring Russian suzerainty over Belarus regardless of the outcome of his invasion of Ukraine. ISW has long assessed that the West sometimes ignores Putin’s activities that appear trivial, but that seemingly trivial activities that fly under the radar are essential to Putin’s strategic gains in the long run.[10] Putin’s gains in Belarus indicate that he is reaping the benefits of such long-term campaigns. Russia and Belarus formed the Union State structure in 1999. The Kremlin significantly intensified its political and economic pressure campaigns to integrate Belarus through the Union State structure no later than 2019.[11] Putin and Lukashenko initially ratified the package of 28 Union State integration programs – which are now mostly implemented – in November 2021.[12]  Western shortsightedness about the Kremlin’s slower-developing, long-term efforts helps enable Putin’s strategic advances.

Key Takeaways

  • The Kremlin will likely subsume elements of Belarus’ defense industrial base (DIB) as part of Moscow’s larger effort to reequip the Russian military to support a protracted war against Ukraine.
  • Lukashenko confirmed that Belarus has implemented more Union State integration programs – marking progress in the Kremlin’s decades-long pressure campaign to formalize the Russian-Belarusian Union State.
  • The Kremlin’s gains in Belarus underscore that Putin’s imperialistic ambitions transcend Ukraine and that containing the Russian threat requires the West’s sustained attention.
  • The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) confirmed the names of the four military district commanders, finalizing a complete turnover of the Russian military’s initial command since the start of the invasion of Ukraine.
  • Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin appears to be mounting an informational counteroffensive against the conventional Russian military establishment.
  • Russian forces continued offensive operations along the Svatove-Kreminna line.
  • Russian forces continued ground attacks around Bakhmut, in the Donetsk City-Avdiivka area, and in western Donetsk Oblast.
  • Russian and Ukrainian military activity near Nova Kakhovka, Kherson Oblast indicates that Russian forces are likely deployed to positions close bank of the Dnipro River.
  • The United Kingdom Ministry of Defense (UK MoD) reported that Russian forces have likely suffered up to 200,000 casualties since the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a variety of laws on February 17 to integrate occupied territories into Russian legal, economic, and administrative structures.
Share the Post: