Belarus attempts to stave off the EU sanctions’ extension
Foreign Minister Martynov’s European visits meant to stave off the potential extension of the EU sanctions before the Parliamentary elections. Simultaneously, Belarus is nevertheless not intending to fulfill the EU’s political demands and is ready to freeze the conflict as is.
On July 23-27, Belarusian Foreign Minister Sergei Martynov visited Brussels and Rome. On July 23rd he attended an Eastern Partnership ministerial meeting in Brussels. On July 25th – 27th Mr. Martynov met with OSCE PA President R. Migliori in Rome.
The main purpose of Martynov’s visit to Brussels was to prevent another extension of sanctions against the Belarusian government and business. Previously, a number of senior European officials (Wiegand, Fule) talked about such a possibility if Belarus failed to fulfill the demands to release and rehabilitate political prisoners. However, Minsk has not made any significant moves in this regard.
Most likely, Martynov’s visit meant to lower the degree of the conflict. Foreign Minister’s presence at that meeting was a minimally acceptable response for Belarus and an indication that Minsk was concerned about the likely extension of sanctions. At the same time, last week Belarusian media disseminated comments by Slovenian and Belarusian businessmen Mr. Shkrabets and Mr. Moshensky about the sanctions policy’s hopelessness.
During the meeting Martynov made it clear that Belarus was not going to fulfill the conditions put forward for the resumption of a political dialogue and, in response to criticism, accused the EU of democracy deficit. Martynov noted that Belarus was ready to participate in regional energy and transport projects within the Eastern Partnership, but only if they were bilaterally approved.
Belarusian authorities were not happy about the format of the European Dialogue for modernization with Belarus programme, namely, its development and launch without consultations with the Belarusian side. In early July this was stated by a representative of Belarus in the EU, Mr. Yeudachenka. Moreover, the government is certainly unhappy about a broad representation of the opposition forces in the programme.
Belarus’ European policy in the coming months will be determined by the election campaign and the actual parliamentary elections to be held in September. Even if these elections once again are not recognized by the West, Minsk is not genuinely interested in holding them in confrontational environment. Mr. Martynov met personally with the Chairman of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Mr. Migliori, who had previously agreed to send a full-fledged election observation mission to Belarus.
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.