In 2018, Belarus plans to proceed with the implementation of the first export contract for the supply of ten rocket launchers (MLRS) "Polonaise". The likely customer of the system is Azerbaijan: the defense minister of this country has already visited Belarus, where he got acquainted with the technology of the MLRS production. Kommersant sources say that such a contract will be negatively perceived in Armenia, but the Iskander operational and tactical systems there must play a deterrent factor in the Armenian-Azerbaijani relations.
The fact that the first export supply of "Polonaises" can take place already in 2018, "Kommersant" told a source close to the Belarusian Defense Ministry. According to him, the first firm contract involves the transfer of ten sets of MLRS (including missiles, transport-charging machines, control stations, radar stations, etc.). Legal documents are at the final stage, and the client "finishes solving its financial issues," the source of Kommersant emphasized, adding that "there is no talk about a loan from Minsk". The source refused to disclose the name of the customer, however, two top managers of Russian defense enterprises say that this is Azerbaijan. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the country did not comment on this information.
The project "Polonaise" began to be implemented against the backdrop of the disagreements of Moscow and Minsk, which continued since 2012, on the delivery of the Iskander operational and tactical missile systems (OTRK) to Belarus. This weapon was needed by President Alexander Lukashenko as a response to the "activation of certain forces." But Russia agreed to relocate the PTRC to Belarus only together with the military calculations of the Russian Armed Forces (see "Kommersant" on May 17, 2016). Not having received the desired, Mr. Lukashenko instructed to create his own system, not inferior in its capabilities to Iskander. To do this from scratch and quickly was difficult, so we decided to purchase and later locate the Chinese A-200 type missiles (produced by China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology) at the Minsk plant of precise electromechanics, installing them on our MZKT-7970 chassis.
On the parade on May 9, 2015, two "Polonaise" were shown to the public. Subsequently, the system was tested at artillery ranges in China and Belarus - the verification was recognized as successful. Defense Minister Andrei Ravkov declared that "Polonaise" showed "its serious power", and Alexander Lukashenko called this event "a happy day in terms of security and defense", and the very creation of the MLRS is "the greatest achievement". According to Kommersant sources, now the volume of localized production of missiles in Belarus is about 30%: the plant expects to master the full assembly cycle, but they admit that while "it's still far away".
The Ministry of Defense of Belarus says that the need for these complexes is objectively small - the same Mr. Ravkov believed that "Polonaise" will be more in demand abroad. One of Kommersant's military-industrial sources says that Azerbaijan has long been eyeing the Belarusian military industrial complex "for reasons of price, it seems that now the Polonaise TTX is also suitable for the demands of their armed forces." In 2017, Azerbaijani Defense Minister Zakir Hasanov paid an official visit to Minsk, having also become acquainted with the capabilities of the Belarusian defense industry. In photos from this event, popular media, the defense minister was spotted next to Polonaise. Yuri Shevtsov, director of the Belarusian Center for European Integration Problems, maintains that Minsk and Baku maintain close relations, "based on the economy: Azerbaijan is a solvent country, and Belarus seeks to gain a foothold in their market."
The contract that is being prepared can be fully considered as "Azerbaijan's belated response to Russia's supplies of Iskander complexes to Armenia," the military-diplomatic source of Kommersant believes. He reminded that back in 2016 Zakir Hasanov threatened to inflict a "crushing blow" on Stepanakert (the capital of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic). But the transfer of one division of the Armenian OTRK forced Azerbaijan to abandon these plans, after which the parties, with the mediation of Russia, managed to be seated at the negotiating table. The interlocutor of Kommersant believes that the delivery of weapons capable of hitting urban and military infrastructure, airfields, road and river networks, as well as living force, will be perceived negatively in Yerevan, but the same Iskanders will play a deterrent role.
Mikhail Barabanov, editor-in-chief of Moscow Defense Brief, agrees that this purchase can be regarded as a response to the purchase of Iskander by Armenia, but stresses that, given the availability of Chinese rockets in Polonaise, this contract is a success, rather, a Chinese defense industry.