Meanwhile, the possible delivery of the “Polonez” and or cooperation regarding them do not only base solely on the words of the Belarussian journalist Alesin, as EADaily claims, but also on a number of indirect indicators that such a deal was at least considered. The situation is not as misty as it would seem at first sight.
First of all, while Minsk did not receive the “Iskander” from Moscow, they launched and have been developing their own rocket program. Their first step in this direction was the multiple launch rocket system (MLRS), truly created with Chinese participation and most probably with attracting Ukrainian experts. To continue this development, the Belarussian companies are working on complementing the “Polonez” MLRS they have with missiles, both ballistic and cruise, of bigger amplitude. Minsk has no intentions of stopping at this and, from all appearances, is attempting to produce air defense systems independently. The Belarusian administration regards all these missile developments as a crucial direction and there are no doubts that they have discussed them with Baku. This also included the line of cooperation in developing such complicated and expensive systems, which are all too often developed through joint efforts of several countries at once.
There have been numerous negotiations on the level of presidents and defense ministers of Belarus and Azerbaijan since Belarus launched the missile program, and there is not even a tinge of doubt that they had touched upon this issue. Particularly, the official message about the visit of the Belarus President Lukashenko to Azerbaijan clearly states that they had discussed issues of military-technical cooperation. Later Lukashenko personally stated that he was not going to look back at anybody regarding cooperation with Baku.
Knowing how dear the “Polonez” project is to Lukashenko, who has mentioned it numerously in his speeches, one fails to even imagine that he has not discussed it in Azerbaijan.
A famous Azerbaijani expert, General Yashar Aydemirov also stated that a “Polonez” deal is possible and has a point.
Indeed, the “Polonez” was initially developed as a unique asymmetric analogue of the “Iskander”, Baku will probably be most interested in it in the context of Armenia owning the Iskander. In other words, this is not only about what one journalist said.
Moreover, there are also facts that allow us to assume that things have gotten off the ground. Particularly, the Belarus military-industrial committee recently reported that Minsk conducts 46% of its military-technical cooperation with countries outside Russia. Considering the fact that the committee also states that they do not work with Ukraine now, one cannot help but wonder how exactly they have managed to achieve such a high result – as Minsk had exported defense products worth a billion dollars last year. And namely cooperation with Azerbaijan, where Minsk has long since wanted to make a shift from simple trade to more sophisticated schemes, assuredly allowed scoring such results, even if Minsk and Baku do not talk much about it.
Cooperation of many years
One may ask if any third countries could even influence the Belarusian-Azerbaijani partnership in this field. This is next to impossible. Belarus and Azerbaijan have been cooperating with unfailing stability in defense industry for more than a decade. Moreover, since mid-2000s both countries have established close friendly relations in almost all fields. This cooperation was of truly strategic character, and even if the sides at times avoided loud declarations, but it was namely Azerbaijan, who in due time helped Belarus respond to the Moscow ultimatum by lending money urgently and privately. And it was Azerbaijan, who demonstrated readiness to assist the projects, initiated by Minsk, to deliver energy resources from alternative Russian sources to Eastern European region. At first, these were oil deliveries based on swap schemes with the participation of Venezuela, but recently, this has turned into direct oil deliveries through Ukraine. We should also add the excellent economic relations and political cooperation on international levels.
It is a rhetoric question whether Belarus administration may risk this long standing friendship. And even if we are to take on a very cynical approach to the issue, will Minsk cross out the results of many years of painstaking work and great prospects for developing bilateral relations in the future for weapon supplies to Armenia? This is well knowing that Yerevan does not have the capacity to pay for bulk quantities and there cannot be even a mention of a stable cooperation considering the capabilities of the Armenian government.
Of course, one can remember how Minsk withdrew from cooperation with Livia and Iran in early 2010s. But back then Minsk was openly and harshly threatened by the USA and their allies. At the same time, the rich Arab monarchs of the Persian Gulf had proposed projects, which promised to more than make up for the refusal to cooperate with Teheran and Tripoli. In other words, it cannot be compared to date’s speculations about foregoing cooperation on the “Polonez”.
Considering the secrecy, peculiar for such deals, we cannot pass any judgments just no on the probability of the “Polonez” deal with Azerbaijan and its intricacies. But Minsk has carried out numerous armament deals, which became known only after they were concluded. For example, no one knew about the supply of air defense systems to Myanmar until the country demonstrated them on a parade a year before last. Only one thing is clear at the moment: the decision on the “Polonez” will be made in Minsk and Baku, not in Yerevan.
Sergey Bogdan, Belarusian analyst, member of the Ostrogorski Center (Minsk-London), specially for Defence.az.
Translated by Leyla Orujova