Belarus and NATO: still far from cooperation, but dialogue starts
The agreement between the Defence Ministries of Latvia and Belarus is a standard one, covering cooperation on international security and defence policy. Belarus needs a dialogue with NATO countries in the defence field, but regards it as having secondary importance for the overall Belarusian-western normalisation strategy.
During his visit to Riga on December 5th and 6th, 2016, Belarusian Defence Minister Andrei Raukou signed the cooperation agreement between the Defence Ministries of Latvia and Belarus in the defence field.
Despite political and economic disputes between Belarus and Russia, the Belarusian authorities still regard Russia as the main partner in the security field. Inter alia, due to technical reasons: the need to maintain combat readiness of the armament inherited from the Soviet Union. The Belarusian-western normalisation suggests political normalisation too, which includes cooperation in the security filed and defence field in particular, as a crucial component.
It should be noted, that the Belarusian-Latvian ‘cooperation’ agreement, in fact, aims to create conditions for a bilateral military dialogue, so that the parties become more predictable and transparent in the international security and defence policy, airspace control, arms control, military medicine, environmental protection, and in holding cultural and sports events in the Armed Forces of the two states. Prospects for cooperation between the Belarusian and western defence agencies (including Latvia) depend entirely and directly on the political dialogue between the parties.
The Belarusian Defence Minister Ravkov’s visit to Latvia is a part of the general trend aimed at improving relations with the West. That said, there are no reasons to talk about Minsk’s geopolitical U-turn. The Belarusian authorities are attempting to find a balance between cooperating with the West with minimal Western influence on Belarus, and retaining amicable relations with Russia.
Following crackdown and arrests of participants in the spring protests, the authorities resumed arrests as punishment for participating in street protests in addition to fines, which for some time were the only punishment for political activity. On September 22nd, 2017, the riot police detained the Belarusian National Congress leader Nikolai Statkevich, the opposition politician was placed in detention centre on Akrestin street. On the same day, after serving seven days of arrest, another BNC leader, Vladimir Neklyaev, was released. He was sentenced for organising a street protest on September 8th against the West-2017 exercises. Other participants in the protest have been fined too. The authorities are likely to continue to use fines and arrests against political activists to punish for their protest activity.