Belarus is incapable of conducting peacekeeping operation in Donbas
Minsk is concerned about the decline in its importance as the negotiation platform for those engaged in the conflict in Ukraine. Due to the limited own resources and capacities, Minsk is only able to keep up interest with bold statements.
On November 17th, 2016, during the press conference for the Russian media, Lukashenka said that Belarus was ready to take control of the 400-kilometer stretch of the Russian-Ukrainian border in Donbas.
Minsk negotiation process around Ukraine has played a significant role in the Belarusian-Western normalisation. Providing a platform for negotiations allowed Minsk to keep a distance from the parties to the conflict, from Moscow in the first place. However, in recent months, attempts to achieve a political settlement in Donbas reached an impasse. Minsk as a negotiations platform has been devalued, which could prompt the Kremlin to apply pressure on the Belarusian government in order to force it to take a pro-Russian position not only in the confrontation with Ukraine, but also with the West altogether.
Taking control of the 400-kilometer Russo-Ukrainian border stretch in Donbas will require a large-scale military and police operation in order to establish effective control not only at the border, but also in the border area of Donetsk and Lugansk regions. That said, only the protection of the border will require at least 4,000 troops; and with the rear structures and the need to monitor the Donbass border areas, it would be closer to 10,000 troops. Based on the international experience, maintenance costs for one soldier would total circa USD 30,000 per year. In addition, due to the highly volatile situation in the Donets Basin, casualties among hypothetical Belarusian troops are virtually inevitable.
Belarus has neither the military, nor the financial capacity for the operation in Donbas. Inevitable losses among the Belarusian troops in a foreign war are fraught with a wave of discontent in Belarus and a political crisis to follow. Lukashenka’s statement about Belarus’ readiness to carry out an operation in the Donbass region is a pure propaganda having no practical implications.
Yet the Belarusian authorities have not taken any action to prevent massive protests against the decree on ‘social parasites’. On February 26th, 2017, multiple protests against the decree were held in three Belarusian regions in Vitebsk, Baranovichi, Brest and Bobruisk (more than 4 000 people participated in total). Very likely, the authorities, on the one hand, anticipate that the decree will be abolished, and other hand, do not want to take responsibility for decisions either on the decree or on the protests.
It should be noted, that the mass street protests on February 17th, 19th, and 26th, were held in the absence of the president in the country. There are reasons to believe that the authorities did not expect such a massive action. The state propaganda responded tangentially, insisting that protests were unjustified, because ‘the state did not require a lot’, despite the fact, that the protesters primarily complained about the lack of jobs in the country. In addition, the protesters pointed to the unfairness of the requirement to pay the tax for being unemployed as the state could not provide job and money making opportunities, while people were humiliated by the need to prove to the state they were unable to pay the tax.
In the past ten days, there were several protests against the decree, which were characterised by the following: the protesters easily picked up anti-Lukashenka slogans; they eagerly shared their outrage with journalists; many protesters said it was their first time when they took to the streets; protesters were ‘common people’, i.e. not political activists; there were fewer white-red-white flags during these protests than during conventional oppositional actions; politicians, who organised protests (eg on February 26th, by the centre-right coalition and the independent trade union) did not attempt to take the lead, especially in the regions. All this gives a picture of truly popular protests.
While refraining from interfering with the meetings and protest marches, the militia on February 26th attempted to put pressure on the protest organisers in the regions by handing out reports on administrative violations after the events. Other than that, it appears that the local and central authorities are unable to respond to the massive protests against the Decree No 3, including crowded street speeches, numerous signatories of petitions (over 80 000), multiple collective and personal appeals to the authorities, and mass meetings.
That said, the authorities are unable to enforce the Decree No 3 as they do not have sufficient resources to trial some 400 000 people for non-compliance. In addition, the authorities do not have sufficient institutional capacity to exempt all those not liable for the tax from the mailing lists of the Tax authorities. The Belarusian Bar Association will provide free legal consultations on March 1st, 2017 for those wishing be exempt from the tax imposed by the Decree No 3, however, this would only slightly east the tension in society.
In addition, despite concerns expressed by some experts and the leader of the protest in Minsk on February 17th Mikola Statkevich, there were only scarce reports in the Russian media about the protests in Belarus.