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Belarus’s “Little Green Men” [REPORT]

Source: Polish MoD’s Operational Center/Flickr, PM’s Office
Source: Polish MoD’s Operational Center/Flickr, PM’s Office

Numerous persons in uniforms can be spotted in the materials recorded at the Polish-Belarusian border daily. Unfortunately, no signs of their being a part of the Belarusian forces can be found - no ID badges, or even rank distinctions. This means that the observers, and the Polish soldiers, can only speculate, as to who they are dealing with.

Belarus has numerous uniformed services at its disposal, dating back to the times when the country was a Soviet Socialist Republic (Russian: Белорусская Советская Социалистическая Республика), a part of the USSR. These elements are directly derived from their Soviet predecessors, cultivating their heritage, and they have taken over numerous organizational traits of those formerly-Soviet formations. Many of these units still bear the military unit numbers assigned to them back in the USSR era.

All of the secret and special operations in Belarus are managed by the Committee for State Security (KGB - Комитет государственной безопасности). It has an unlimited reach, and the body is the most important structure that makes it possible for the current regime to retain power. The Belorussian KGB follows the structure of its elder sister - the Russian FSB. Still, it retains the name of the former Soviet service - the KGB. The KGB's outreach is also tied to the military, as the service is also responsible for military counterintelligence.
The following elements are the basic building blocks of the Belorussian KGB:

  • State Security Committee of the Republic of Belarus, in Minsk;
  • Directorate for the Brest Region in Brest;
  • Directorate for Vitebsk Region in Vitebsk;
  • Directorate for Gomel Region in Gomel;
  • Directorate for Grodno Region in Grodno;
  • Directorate for the Minsk City and Minsk Region in Minsk;
  • Directorate for the Mogilev Region in Mogilev;
  • KGB Military Counterintelligence Directorate of the Republic of Belarus in Minsk;
  • 14th Autonomous KGB Governmental Communications Regiment of the Republic of Belarus (Military Unit no. 04152) in Maladzyechna (Minsk Region);
  • KGB Scientific-Technical Center of the Republic of Belarus, in Minsk.

All information on detailed structure, quantitative shape, and operations undertaken by KGB in Belarus remains secret. It remains unclear as to which structure of the KGB has the "Alfa" anti-terrorist unit under its jurisdiction. This is the most specialized Belorussian unit employed in the most covert of the operations. One may expect that it could potentially be present on the Polish border.

The second of the state services involved in the conflict on the Polish Border is the State Border Committee of the Republic of Belarus (Государственный пограничный комитет). It is a border service that is also not a part of the Belorussian Ministry of Internal Affairs. It is organized into groups and units stationed along the Belorussian border. A separate unit that deals with the border-crossing procedures at the airport is stationed in Minsk. This is the airport that is used by most of the refugees to enter Belarus, and from there, they are directed to the Lithuanian, or - currently, to the Polish border.

The following units are among the primary elements dealing with border security in Belarus:

  • State Border Committee of the Republic of Belarus in Minsk;
  • Felix Dzerzhinsky Brest Border Group based in Brest (Military Unit No. 2187);
  • Gomel Border Group (Military Unit no. 1242), based in Gomel;
  • Grodno Border Group (Military Unit no. 2141), based in Grodno;
  • Lida Border Unit (Military Unit no. 1234) in Lida;
  • Mazyr Border Unit (Military Unit no. 1257) in Prudok (Mazyr Region);
  • Pinsk Border Unit (Military Unit no. 1235) in Pinsk;
  • Polotsk Border Unit (Military Unit no. 2034) in Farinov (Фарынава) (Polotsk Region)
  • Smorgon Border Group (Military Unit no. 2044) in Smorgon;
  • “Minsk” Border Control Group in Minsk;
  • Communications and Support Group (Military Unit no. 2007) based in Minsk;
  • Material-Technical Support Group (Military Unit no. 1463) based in Dzierzhinsk (Minsk Region).

Belorussian Border Guard also has its special unit, but there is no data available as to which organizational structure it belongs. It is known as OSAM and, with utmost certainty, it is used to conduct operations on the Polish Belorussian border.

Belorussian Internal Troops are the most powerful of the forces in Belarus (referred to in Russian as the Внутренние войска Министерства внутренних дел). They are also closely tied to the history of the USSR. Back in 1968, the 43rd Convoy Division was established in Belarus, as a part of the USSR military. In 1989, as the Soviet Union was dissolving, the unit was renamed to 43rd Internal Troops Division. On 24th March 1992, the whole division was subordinated to the newly emerging, independent Republic of Belarus. The command of the unit (Military Unit no. 3403) was dissolved, while the individual regiments and battalion were frequently reformed, organization-wise. Initially, the Internal Troops of Belarus were formed around a battalion-based structure, that was later on transformed into a formation based around brigades. The brigades had their elements, along with subordinated autonomous battalions, stationed in locations different from those where the brigades were stationed. In recent years, those "outstanding" battalions have begun to become a part of the brigades, whereas some elements are still delegated, when it comes to the location where they remain stationed.

Currently, the following units form the core of the Internal Troops component:

  • SOBR Special Immediate Response Unit (Military Unit No. 3032) based in Minsk;
  • 3rd Separate Special-Purpose Brigade, Minsk (Military Unit no. 3214);
  • 1st Separate Special Police Brigade, Minsk (Military Unit no. 5448);
  • 2nd Separate Special-Police Brigade (Military Unit no. 3310) stationed in Kholevschizhna;
  • 4th Separate Special-Police Brigade (Military Unit No. 7404) in Baranoviche;
  • 5th Separate Special-Police Brigade (Military Unit no. 6713) in Mogilev;
  • 6th Separate Special-Police Brigade (Military Unit no. 5525) in Gomel;
  • 7th Separate Special-Police Brigade (Military Unit no. 5524) stationed in Vitebsk;
  • Separate Security Battalion (of the Belorussian Nuclear Power Plant) (Military Unit no. 7434), stationed in Astravets, Grodno Region.

Police Brigades (1st, 2nd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th), with their battalions and companies, are qualified as military units equipped with light weapons, APCs, and other specialist equipment. They are placed between the special units of the Police (OMON) and the military units subordinated to the MoD. They are used to keep peace internally and are rather dedicated to operations against civilians. Of course, during wartime they fight guerilla, protect the primary infrastructure in the country and support the operational units. The new, separate battalion that works as a security service for the Belorussian Nuclear Power Plant is a relatively new unit. The Belorussian Spetsnaz is contained in the large, 3rd Separate Special Purpose Brigade, stationed in Minsk. The elite Special Rapid Response Unit is stationed alongside. Both units handle the most important and challenging missions in Minsk and in the areas to which they are deployed. 6 Police brigades (including the one stationed in Minsk) are responsible generally, meanwhile both Spetsnaz units are rather used to intervene following commands at the central level. One may be certain that the Internal Troops are also involved in the events on the borders, and in directing and securing the movement of migrants to the border crossings and to the areas where they are making attempts to cross the Polish border illegally.

A separate unit that is not a part of the Internal Troops component, but still acts on behalf of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, is the Almaz Special Anti-Terrorism Unit (SPBT Almaz) (Russian: Специальное подразделение по борьбе с терроризмом «Алмаз» (СПБТ «Алмаз»)). It is the most elite unit under the control of this ministry. There is little credible data available, on Almaz, but it is often showcased in the public. Unfortunately, it has been used frequently since the last Presidential Election in Belarus, to act against the protesters. It is almost certain that this unit may be involved on the Polish border. If not directly, it certainly is an asset for the command in Minsk.

Unfortunately, since the Belorussian "Little Green Men" lack any ID badges, one cannot rule out the involvement of units subordinated to the MoD, at the Border. Special Operations Forces Command elements (Командование сил специальных операций) seem to be the perfect candidate here. Even though the military is not trained to participate in internal conflicts, or to handle the emigrants, an authoritarian state, such as Belarus, could potentially use its Armed Forces against Poland. This is why the framework of the Belorussian SOF Command is worthy of analysis. The elements include:

  • 38th 38th Guards Air Assault Brigade, Brest (Military Unit no. 92616);
  • 103rd Guards Airborne Brigade (Military Unit no. 52287) based in Vitebsk;
  • 5th Spetsnaz Brigade (Military Unit no. 89417), based in Marina Gorka;
  • 33rd Guards Spetsnaz Detachment (Military Unit no. 97020) based in Vitebsk;

All of the SOF Command-subordinated units gather more than 6.2 thousand troops together. The airborne and air assault brigades are the largest ones of the bunch, 2 thousand soldiers each. Each of those brigades has 1 BTR-70 battalion (more than 30 examples), and 2 BTR-80 battalions (60 examples each). Each of those brigades also has a 122 mm D-30 howitzer squadron (12 examples), while each of the battalions includes a 120 mm 2B23 Nona towed mortar battery (6 examples). Belarus has no airlift capability of its own, with assets capable of conducting a major airdrop operation. The Belorussian Air Force operates single examples of Il-76MD, An-26, and An-12, several Mi-26, and Mi-8 helicopters - and these assets could be potentially used for airborne operations. Both brigades above either need to make use of the Russian assets (which are insufficient for the Russian airborne elements), or make use of land routes. However, compared to the remaining Belorussian mechanized brigades, these are better trained and better equipped. This predisposes these units to take part in special operations, or to support operations as such, securing the perimeter. One may also expect the remaining units - the Belorussian Spetsnaz - to participate. Both the 5th Brigade, as well as the 33rd Spetsnaz Units are trained in special operations and sabotage against Poland. The soldiers of the aforesaid units, apart from receiving basic training, are also trained in assault in the border region, learn Polish, and get acquainted with Polish customs and culture. All of the above skills would be useful if active operations against Poland are undertaken. The Spetsnaz units do not use any heavy weapons, they are equipped with the latest weapons and equipment that is a part of the inventory of the Armed Forces of Belarus. Some of the Spetsnaz elements also go through regular parachute training activities. Deployment of small airborne SOF squads is still possible for the Belarus Air Force.

The herein, brief review outlines the different assets available to the Belorussian government. We do not know, however, where the "Little Green Men" visible in the video materials captured at the border come from. The soldiers, on purpose, hide their state and organizational association.

Jarosław Ciślak