Belarus information security risks linked with Eurasian integration
On June 18th, “The Integration” International Fund published poll results about trust levels to opposition politicians in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. In three countries 2,700 people were questioned aged between 18 and 65, statistical error not more than 3%.
Belarusian authorities have not yet publicly reacted to the interference by a foreign sociological service with the Belarus’ political agenda. Potentially the authorities will enhance control over public polls in Belarus by enacting stricter laws.
The poll organized by the ‘Integration’ fund threatens the established by the Belarusian ruling group information monopoly. First, the fund operates in several countries (Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Georgia and Belarus), which enables it to carry out large-scale information and research projects. Second, the fund pursues formally a flawless goal - to promote integration among post-Soviet states.
However, the poll’s content contradicts its form and may be considered by the Belarusian authorities as information diversion. Formally, the poll aimed at studying the mistrust level towards opposition politicians in three countries. However the poll failed to study the trust levels towards the authorities, which de facto could be regarded as hidden advertisement of the opposition and as an attempt to put pressure on the countries’ leaders.
In particular, pollsters argue that in Belarus former presidential candidate Nyaklyayeu enjoys the greatest trust (16%), he is followed by Milinkevich (12%), Lyabedzka (11%), Sannikov (9%) and Shushkevich (8%). Simultaneously, Neklyaev enjoys the lowest mistrust - 32%. Other listed opposition politicians have mistrust levels higher than 45%. The poll’s results demonstrate higher trust levels than domestic electoral support poll results held by IISEPS.
So far the Belarusian authorities have not responded to this information. A year ago, Belarus drafted changes to the Administrative offences’ Code, which envisaged penalties for sociological services operating in Belarus without a license. The amendments have not been adopted, but following an order, Belarusian MPs may well resume considering these amendments and prevent foreign polling services from operating in Belarus.
Such a response would be the most logical for the Belarusian authorities, since Belarus is unable to organize similar polls in Russia (mainly due to financial restraints).
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.