The Armed Forces
Honor guard at the World War II memorial, Minsk
Courtesy Michael E. Samojeden
Before the dissolution of the Soviet Union, 180,000
troops were stationed in the Belorussian SSR;
answered directly to the General Staff in Moscow rather
Belorussian Military District commanders. This situation
only in May 1992 when Belarus abolished the Belorussian
District and subordinated all troops on its soil to its
Ministry of Defense.
The Belarusian armed forces officially came into
January 1, 1993, the day after all service personnel with
Belarusian citizenship, which excluded the great majority
officers, had taken an oath of loyalty to Belarus. Because
was no stipulation that only Belarusian citizens could
the armed forces, they were Belarusian forces in name
there was concern among groups such as the BPF that in
crisis the loyalty of these forces might lie with Russia
than with Belarus.
A component of this concern was the ethnic composition
armed forces. At the end of 1992, ethnic Russians
nearly half the Belarusian conscripts and some 80 percent
officer corps. Since then, the ethnic composition of the
has been changing gradually in favor of Belarusians as a
of legislative acts, but the process is slow. It will take
before the republic has its own Belarusian-led armed
are politically reliable and dedicated to Belarusian
Another aspect of the nationality issue was that in
40,000 Belarusian natives served as officers in the armed
of other former Soviet republics. Many of them wished to
home for either patriotic or economic reasons, but such
possibilities were limited because of the shortage of
the republic's scheduled military reductions in general.
concerned the Belarusian Ministry of Defense, which was
by Russians, was an announcement in the spring of 1992 by
Coordinating Council of the Union of Belarusian Soldiers
these officers were willing to fight against Russian
aggression in Belarus.
Because of Belarus's geopolitical importance and its
absorption of troops withdrawn from the countries of the
Warsaw Pact, it was the most militarized republic of the
Soviet Union. Even in 1993, it had a ratio of one soldier
forty-three civilians, compared with one to ninety-eight
Ukraine and one to 634 in Russia. In real numbers, this
estimated 243,000 troops. In addition, there was a serious
imbalance in the officer-to-conscript ratio: three
every seven conscripts.
In accordance with its stated goal of becoming a
state and its new defense doctrine, the government
number of its troops by some 60 percent, from 243,000 to
(including up to 22,000 officers) by the beginning of
armed forces also employed 64,000 civilians in early 1995.
Further reductions were expected to reduce the total armed
to a strength of 75,000 or even 60,000. Such a move,
presents a difficult political problem because of a lack
housing and employment for demobilized service members,
regardless of their present citizenship, are eligible to
Belarusian citizens and voters.
Women serve in the armed forces as well, although in
smaller numbers than men. They face the same physical and
testing requirements as men. In mid-1995 there were
3,000 servicewomen, many of whom worked at headquarters as
In early 1995, the armed forces were in the midst of
five main reforms. The first was a gradual move toward a
50 percent professional soldiers. By mid-1995 there were
professional soldiers on contracts of five years or longer
another 9,000 soldiers on contracts of two to five years.
accounted for 32 percent of the uniformed establishment.
The second reform is to redivide the country into
territorial districts whose district commanders will be
the structure of local government. The Ministry of Defense
that after implementing this system, recruits will be able
serve closer to home and that draft avoidance will
The third reform is to create a mobile operational
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
built on corps and brigades, suits Belarus's needs better
the Soviet-era divisions.
Last is the army's increased role in internal security.
According to a presidential decree of January 1, 1995,
"On Reinforcing the Fight Against Crime," troops have been
transferred from the Ministry of Defense to the Ministry
Interior. Belarus's Border Guards are under the control of
Ministry of Interior. They numbered 8,000 in early 1995.
Data as of June 1995