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IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
07MINSK270 2007-03-29 12:43:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Minsk
Cable title:  

DEFMIN SEEKS USG COOPERATION DESPITE THE OBSTACLES

Tags:   ECON EPET PGOV PREL BO 
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1. (C) Defense Minister Leonid Maltsev told Ambassador during
their first meeting that he would like to deepen the
military's interaction with the United States, but he
understands the political obstacles to high-level
cooperation. The MoD benefited greatly from past USG
assistance, and Maltsev hoped to renew the previous level of
assistance. The Minister stressed his commitment to
professionalism by outlining for Ambassador Belarus'
successful military reforms. Ambassador noted some limited
ongoing areas of cooperation, but confirmed to Maltsev that
any significant new programs would require progress towards
democracy. End summary.



2. (SBU) On March 28, Ambassador called on Minister of
Defense Leonid Semenovich Maltsev. Also attending from the
Belarusian side were State Secretary and Assistant for
Political-Military Affairs Col. Aleksandr Pavlovich Anisimov,
Chief of the International Military Cooperation Directorate
Col. Fedor Aleksandrovich Levsha, and U.S. Desk Officer Lt.
Col. Oleg Aleksandrovich Chaykin; and from the U.S. side DCM,
DATT, Pol/Econ Chief and Deputy Chief. (Note: The GOB took
several weeks to authorize the meeting. End note.)

Getting Back to Where We Started


--------------------------





3. (C) Displaying an impressive knowledge of previous
bilateral programs, Maltsev said he would eventually like
Belarus and the United States to regain the level of
cooperation they had up until 1998. He singled out renewed
IMET assistance, travel by MoD personnel under the Warsaw
Initiative Fund and the re-establishment of exchanges that
previously facilitated travel by senior MoD officials,
including Maltsev, to visit the Utah National Guard.
Ambassador noted Maltsev's requests, but stated in clear
terms that the USG's top priority in Belarus remains
democratic reform and the current political environment in
the country precludes substantive bilateral cooperation in
any sphere, including in the military realm.



4. (C) Maltsev immediately recognized "political obstacles"
to rebuilding the relationship, but he desired at least
movement in the right direction. He mentioned
English-language education and practical training in
peacekeeping as two areas where assistance could prove
especially beneficial.



5. (C) Maltsev also stated his desire for more cooperation
with NATO, characterizing the current level of interaction as
"not serious." He hoped NATO would conclude a security
agreement with Belarus. The lack of such a document prevents
his officers from participating in most NATO training and
conferences, and also hampers the work of Belarus'
representative to NATO.

Maltsev Satisfied with Ambassador's Proposals


--------------------------





6. (C) Ambassador ruled out IMET assistance, but noted
several potential avenues for low-level cooperation. Some
Warsaw Initiative funds and some participation in NATO
exercises were workable. Ambassador presented military
medical training and English language practice, as well as
programs at the Marshall Center as other feasible examples of
assistance. Maltsev replied that Ambassador's clear
preparation for the meeting indicated they could build a
successful relationship. He also reassured Ambassador that
the MoD disagreed with Belarusian state television
accusations against the Marshall Center (reftel).

Maltsev Promotes Professionalism


--------------------------





7. (C) Picking up on Ambassador's acknowledgment that the
Belarusian military has not become involved in domestic
repression (unlike the MVD and the BKGB), Maltsev sought to
underline the MoD's professionalism. He told Ambassador he
would like to move to an all-volunteer military - but said
that the economic situation made that impossible. Maltsev
said hazing of conscripts had been greatly reduced and all

MINSK 00000270 002 OF 002


reports of abuses, even verbal abuse, were investigated.
Safety precautions during training had reduced casualties to
just one or two per year, meaning recruits were more likely
to die in accidents while on leave than on duty. These
reforms meant Belarusian parents no longer feared sending
their sons into the army. Thus, the military only had to
enlist one out of three conscripts who passed their physical
exam.



8. (C) Maltsev averred that he supported alternative service
for conscientious objectors, whom he estimated numbered
100-120 people annually. He would like a law on alternative
service, but in its absence the military simply did not
conscript those who could prove they were pacifists for
religious or political reasons.



9. (C) Maltsev proudly stated Belarus' entire military
doctrine was public. He also touted Belarus' strict
compliance with its obligations under the CFE treaty, despite
the political and financial costs, as well as the destruction
of light weapons and mines as required by additional arms
control treaties that Belarus has ratified.

Comment


--------------------------





10. (C) Although we had been prepared for a perfunctory
courtesy call, we were very favorably impressed that Maltsev
immediately admitted political constraints on further
cooperation and expressed interest in the few limited areas
where cooperation is possible and/or ongoing.
Despite the necessarily formal setting of a large meeting,
Maltsev was clearly at ease, smiling and joking frequently,
leaning into the side of his armchair in front of an
ornamental fireplace. He did not rely much on his briefing
papers and only once in the eighty-minute meeting did he turn
to his aides for confirmation of a particular detail; they
were as surprised as we were that the meeting lasted well
over an hour.



11. (C) We requested the meeting largely on the basis that
Maltsev is one of the only senior regime officials who has
publicly contradicted Lukashenko. (On a number of occasions,
the Belarusian dictator has threatened to charge the Russians
rent for military bases in Belarus, but Maltsev has told
journalists quite categorically that will never happen.) The
Defense Minister's intelligence, hospitality, and honesty
about economic constraints - as well as his complete
avoidance of even a passing reference to Lukashenko - do not
show that he is about to join the democratic opposition, but
are nevertheless refreshing indications that he at least in
part thinks for himself.
Stewart