Authorities Wait for Cause to Start Dialogue
On February 12th, Belarusian delegation headed by Minister of Foreign Affairs Vladimir Makey took part in the second round of the informal ministerial meeting within the Eastern Partnership held in Tbilisi.
Minsk has publicly demonstrated its willingness to resume political dialogue with the EU. However, the results of the meeting in Tbilisi say that Belarus has not yet received sufficient guarantees for the resolution of the current political conflict from its Western partners and waits for favorable conditions to resume the dialogue.
Belarusian delegation’s participation in Tbilisi meeting aimed at creating frameworks for potential negotiations with the EU in 2013. The framework will be the Eastern Partnership Summit, scheduled for November in Vilnius. Multilateral negotiations within the Eastern Partnership is a preferred format for Belarus, because it allows retouching bilateral claims of the EU and the U.S. regarding political prisoners, and securing the support by other Eastern Partnership participants, for instance, regarding participation in the EURONEST, EaP Parliamentary Assembly.
The authorities seriously consider their participation in the Vilnius summit and even more – resuming negotiations with the EU using the EaP platform. The scheduled for February 20th-23rd visit of the Belarusian parliamentary delegation to Vienna to participate in the OSCE PA session also confirms this assumption, as well as participation of the President’s Intelligence and Analytical Centre Deputy Director in the OSCE conference “Internet 2013 – Shaping policies to advance media freedom” on February 12th.
Finally, on February 14th Deputy Foreign Minister Mr. Kupchina met with Eastern Policy Director of the Polish Foreign Ministry Ms Figel and Polish Ambassador to Belarus Mr. Sherepka in Minsk. Meeting details were not disclosed, official reports said, that the parties discussed Belarusian-Polish relations and other issues of mutual interest.
Failure of the authorities to release and rehabilitate political prisoners implies that President Lukashenko, on the one hand, thinks the moment is not right to resume a political dialogue with the West. (In 2008 the Georgian-Ossetian military conflict was the triggering moment). On the other hand, it is likely that the Belarusian authorities do not consider the proposed potential financial bonuses and guarantees sufficient and therefore not entailing the release of political prisoners.
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.