Belarus counts on Austria and the OSCE
On 26 August the president appointed Valery Voronetsky as Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Ambassador of Belarus to the Republic of Austria, Permanent Representative of Belarus to International Organizations in Vienna
and Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Ambassador of Belarus to the Republic of Croatia in combination.
President Lukashenko seeks to restore and strengthen old ties with Austrians, who could provide a new platform for restoration of a dialogue with the EU. He also removes the closest subordinates of the Foreign Minister Martynov, who have lost confidence by the head of state after the presidential campaign of 2010. Resignation of Martynov himself is also possible in the medium term.
Following the scandal concerning the provision of financial information about human rights activist A. Bialiatski to Belarus and arrest of the latter, the restoration of a political dialogue between Belarus and the EU, solicited by the authorities of Lithuania and Poland, is questionable in the short term. Belarusian authorities are forced to seek for the new platforms to resume a dialogue, or at least to maintain the current level of cooperation with the EU.
Appointment of an experienced and respected Foreign Ministry official Valery Voronetsky, who had previously served as Ambassador to Belgium (1997-2000) and to the Slovak Republic (2002 - 2006), as Ambassador to Austria implies that Minsk hopes to strengthen cooperation with Austrian businesses (primarily in the banking and telecommunications fields), and to improve cooperation with other EU countries, in particular, with the business community of Germany, who often expressed interest in the Belarusian market.
Moreover, Vienna hosts the OSCE Secretariat and Belarus is interested in maintaining relations with this international organization. Earlier this year the Belarusian Foreign Ministry said that regardless of the closure of the OSCE Office in Minsk in March 2011, Belarus intended to continue cooperation with this organization without “mediators”, directly with the Secretariat in Vienna.
Transfer of Valery Voronetsky from the position of Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs to the Embassy service implies weakening of the position of Foreign Minister Sergei Martynov. The latter was one of the organizers of talks between President Lukashenko and the foreign ministers of Poland and Germany on the eve of the presidential elections in Belarus in 2010, however, elections were held according to a different scenario, and the efforts of Minister Martynov were in vain, resulting in the increased distrust of him by the president.
Finally, recently Martynov’s name appeared in connection with a scandal about the likely involvement of Belarus in the arms trade schemes with Pakistani terrorists: a fragment of correspondence between the Minister and his Syrian counterparts has been published by the hacker group Anonymous. Even if these documents are proved to be fakes, the reputation of the Belarusian Foreign Ministry has already been damaged and needs to be improved. The best way to do it is to make new appointments.
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.