Azerbaijan and Belarus may help each other to survive

December 05, 2016 8:58

Due to mutual interests, in the near future, Belarus and Azerbaijan may confirm being in the de facto union, including in the military and political area.

Lukashenka's visit to Baku on November 28th-29th, 2016, confirmed the strategic partnership between Belarus and Azerbaijan based on the personal relationship between the leaders of the two states.

Baku is aiming to respond adequately to the deployment of the Iskander, Russian tactical missile complex, in Armenia. As an option, the Azerbaijani army may adopt heavy MLRS, such as the Belarusian Polonaise.

Minsk’s interest is to sign a long-term agreement on Azeri oil supply to Belarus. Amid the fight between oil producers for preserving their market share, penetration on the Belarusian (and later European) market could be of considerable interest to Azerbaijan. In addition, Minsk will gain an additional argument in negotiations with the EU, only this time not as a peacekeeper, but as an oil hub.

Azerbaijan is Turkey’s closest military and political ally and has a lobbying potential in Ankara. The Belarusian authorities regard Turkish foreign policy ambitions as a potential mechanism for balancing Russia in Eastern Europe and South Caucasus. In addition, Belarus is interested in a comprehensive cooperation with Ankara and Baku’s assistance may prove to be very handy.

In the near future, Belarus-Azeri cooperation may gain momentum. The ruling regimes in both countries are concerned about external security threats and because of distrust of the West, are interested to engage new external players in the regional context. However, the question remains, what would be Russia's response to such a game by Minsk and Baku? As regards Azerbaijan, the Kremlin has a free hand: Azerbaijan is not a member in the Russia-led integration associations, it is de facto in a state of war with Russia’s ally, Armenia, it is a rival on the oil market, and has no clear external security guarantees. Overall, potential cooperation between Minsk and Baku could only materialise if Russia turns the blind eye to it.

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Belarusian authorities resume political cycle: repressions follow liberalisation
March 27, 2017 10:42
Фото: Vasily Fedosenko/Reuters

The Belarusian authorities have revived the cyclical political agenda, including preventive crackdown with the use of force during the Freedom Day rally in Minsk and a loyal attitude to the participants in the opposition events in the regions. The protest rally in Minsk has evidenced that the Belarusian society has freed from the post-Maidan syndrome and showed high self-organisation capacity during the event in the absence of opposition leaders. In the future, the authorities are likely to expand the framework for sanctioned and legal activity for the moderate opposition in order to reduce the potential for street protests.

The Freedom Day march in Minsk on March 25th, 2017 was marked by unprecedented and brutal detentions before and during the event.

The Belarusian leadership has managed to stretch in time the political cycle - liberalization followed by repressions - and move beyond the electoral campaigns. Simultaneously, Minsk has demonstrated a rather high mobilisation potential under political slogans, despite the pressure from the state media and security forces before and during Freedom Day, including the presence of armed officers and new special equipment to disperse demonstrations in the streets of Minsk. That said, in other towns (Vitebsk, Gomel, Brest and Grodno) the Freedom Day march led by the opposition, was sanctioned by the local authorities (except Vitebsk), albeit there were fewer participants than in February and March protests against the decree on social dependants.

The Belarusian leadership has depersonalised (removed leaders) the protest, preventively weakened the protest movement, and has not opted for the harsh crackdown like in 2010 with many injured and hundreds arrested. For instance, some party leaders were preventively arrested or detained (Lebedko, Rymashevsky, Gubarevich, Neklyaev, Logvinets, Severinets) before the event. Nikolai Statkevich has disappeared and his whereabouts are currently unknown. Some could not pass through the police cordons (Yanukevich and Kostusev) or participated in the rallies in the regions (Dmitriev, Korotkevich and Milinkevich).

Despite the lack of protest leaders, some demonstrators managed to self-organize and march down the Minsk centre. The march was unauthorised but gathered several thousand participants. Many were detained by the law enforcement and later released without charges. In addition, the Belarusian law enforcers used some tactics of the western riot police against peaceful protesters, allegedly in order to mitigate the criticism from Western capitals.

Nevertheless, the Belarusian authorities have used the entire set of propaganda and power mechanisms applied during the highly politicised 2006 and 2010 elections - criminal prosecution of the opposition leaders, preventive detentions and arrests of activists, harsh propaganda campaign in the state media and, finally, the crackdown on the protest action in Minsk with the use of force.

Overall, the mobilisation potential of the Belarusian society remains high and the authorities are likely to expand the legal framework for public participation in politics in order to absorb superfluous tension.