Belarus Table of Contents
Honor guard at the World War II memorial, Minsk
Courtesy Michael E. Samojeden
Before the dissolution of the Soviet Union, 180,000 Soviet troops were stationed in the Belorussian SSR; approximately half answered directly to the General Staff in Moscow rather than to Belorussian Military District commanders. 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.
The Belarusian armed forces officially came into existence on January 1, 1993, the day after all service personnel with Belarusian citizenship, which excluded the great majority of the officers, had taken an oath of loyalty to Belarus. Because there was no stipulation that only Belarusian citizens could serve in the armed forces, they were Belarusian forces in name only, and there was concern among groups such as the BPF that in time of crisis the loyalty of these forces might lie with Russia rather than with Belarus.
A component of this concern was the ethnic composition of the armed forces. 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. What concerned the Belarusian Ministry of Defense, which was dominated by Russians, was an announcement in the spring of 1992 by the Coordinating Council of the Union of Belarusian Soldiers that these officers were willing to fight against Russian military aggression in Belarus.
Because of Belarus's geopolitical importance and its absorption of troops withdrawn from the countries of the former Warsaw Pact, it was the most militarized republic of the former Soviet Union.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. In real numbers, this meant an estimated 243,000 troops. 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 its new defense doctrine, the government decreased 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 also employed 64,000 civilians in early 1995. Further reductions were expected to reduce the total armed forces to a strength of 75,000 or even 60,000. Such a move, however, presents a difficult political problem because of a lack of housing and employment for demobilized service members, who, regardless of their present citizenship, are eligible to become Belarusian citizens and voters.
Women serve in the armed forces as well, although in much smaller numbers than men. They face the same physical and other testing requirements as men. In mid-1995 there were approximately 3,000 servicewomen, many of whom worked at headquarters as secretaries.
In early 1995, the armed forces were in the midst of adopting five main reforms. The first was a gradual move toward a goal of 50 percent professional soldiers. By mid-1995 there were 22,000 professional soldiers on contracts of five years or longer and another 9,000 soldiers on contracts of two to five years. These accounted for 32 percent of the uniformed establishment.
The second reform is to redivide the country into military territorial districts whose district commanders will be part of the structure of local government. The Ministry of Defense hopes that after implementing this system, recruits will be able to serve closer to home and that draft avoidance will decline.
The third reform is to create a mobile operational force. Such a force would likely be composed of three brigades: airmobile, helimobile, and airborne/special forces.
The fourth reform is the adoption of a new structure to permit maximum flexibility. The army's new post-Soviet structure, built on corps and brigades, suits Belarus's needs better than the Soviet-era divisions.
Last is the army's increased role in internal security. According to a presidential decree of January 1, 1995, entitled "On Reinforcing the Fight Against Crime," troops have been transferred from the Ministry of Defense to the Ministry of Interior. Belarus's Border Guards are under the control of the Ministry of Interior. They numbered 8,000 in early 1995.
Data as of June 1995
Belarus Table of Contents