Authorities did not fall for information provocation
On February 4th, Russia’s Media Group RBC Ukrainian Branch Office, referring to a source in the Belarusian Presidential Administration, reported that Belarus-born Russian businessman Dmitry Mazepin could be appointed Deputy Prime Minister of Belarus in charge of the Belarusian-Russian relations.
Misinformation about Russian businessman Mazepin plans to become Belarus’ Vice Premier imply, that talks about conditions for a new Russian loan for Belarus are ongoing. The disinformation meant to disrupt the talks, but the Belarusian authorities showed restraint and did not fall for the provocation.
This news does not correspond to the reality. The news piece was published on “RBC-Ukraine” website and was removed within a few hours, a disclaimer by Mazepin’s company URALCHIM followed. Presidential Administration refused to comment the news. Notably, the provocation - intentionally or not – coincided with the personnel shifts in the President Lukashenko’s press service: on February 5th PA former spokesman Legki was departing for his new job in the Belarus’ Embassy in Russia.
Nevertheless, the nature of the misinformation implies that Russo-Belarusian negotiations about circa USD 3 billion loan are ongoing. According to RBC journalists, Belarus needs a concessional loan to pay for Russian energy. This could be true, in December 2012 Lukashenko publicly said that he appealed to the Russian leadership for a USD 2 billion loan.
The information provocation indicates that certain elite group in Russia (and possibly in Belarus) is not interested in additional lending to Belarus on the discussed terms and requests their revision. In particular, reports about alleged granting of Belarusian citizenship to Mazepin and his appointment as Deputy Prime Minister for Belarusian-Russian relations look absurd and exaggerate Russia’s abilities to influence the situation in Belarus.
Belarus’ restrained public reaction to this news demonstrates that Belarus intends to continue negotiations with Russian partners. If so, in the near future the political conflict with the EU and the U.S. will remain frozen, unless Minsk receives tangible guarantees of commensurate support from the IMF.
It is also possible that the misinformation about the exaggerated ‘Russian threat’ meant to push foreign counterparts to speed up negotiation processes and to name their price.
Over the past year, military-political relations between Minsk and Kyiv have become complicated. Due to their high inertia and peculiarities, this downward trend would be extremely difficult to overcome.
The root cause of the crisis is the absence of a common political agenda in the Belarusian-Ukrainian relations. Minsk is looking for a market for Belarusian exports in Ukraine and offers its services as a negotiation platform for the settlement of the Russo-Ukrainian war, thereby hoping to avoid political issues in the dialogue with Kiev. Meanwhile, Ukraine is hoping for political support from Minsk in the confrontation with Moscow. In addition, Ukraine’s integration with NATO presupposes her common position with the Alliance in relation to Belarus. The NATO leadership regards the Belarusian Armed Forces as an integral part of the Russian military machine in the western strategic front (the Baltic states and Poland). In addition, the ongoing military reform in Ukraine envisages a reduction in the number of generals and the domestic political struggle makes some Ukrainian top military leaders targets in politically motivated attacks.
Hence, the criticism of Belarus coming from Ukrainian military leadership is dictated primarily by internal and external political considerations, as well as by the need to protect the interests of generals, and only then by facts.
For instance, initially, the Ukrainian military leadership made statements about 100,000 Russian servicemen allegedly taking part in the Russo-Belarusian military drill West-2017. Then the exercises were labelled quazi-open and military observers from Ukraine refused to provide their assessment, which caused a negative reaction in Minsk. Further, without citing specific facts, it was stated that Russia was building up its military presence in Belarus.
Apparently, the Belarusian and Ukrainian Defence Ministries have entangled in a confrontational spiral (on the level of rhetoric). Moreover, only a small part of the overly hidden process has been disclosed. That said, third states are very likely to take advantage of the situation (or have already done so). This is not only about Russia.
The Belarusian Defence Ministry officials are restrained in assessing their Ukrainian counterparts. However, such a restraint is not enough. Current military-political relations between Belarus and Ukraine are unlikely to stabilise without the intervention of both presidents.