Belarus is trying to capitalize on her transit status in the West
On March 28th, Belarus’ Foreign Minister Vladimir Makey met with Lithuania’s Deputy Foreign Minister Krivas. Belarusian-Lithuanian ministerial consultations resulted in a number of agreements, inter alia, in transportation field.
An important economic incentive stimulating Minsk-Vilnius interactions is the Belarus’ potential participation in the NATO cargo troops withdrawal project in Afghanistan. There is nt public information about the agreements’ content, which could mean that bargaining is still in progress.
Transit cargo shipping was one of the topics discussed during the Belarusian-Lithuanian consultations, and most likely it related to the most topical regional logistics project for 2013-2014 – NATO cargo transportation from Afghanistan within the Northern Distribution Network.
In Eastern Europe the NDN logistics network uses three Baltic ports: Riga, Tallinn and Klaipeda. Among them, only Klaipeda port is ice-free. Therefore, in Lithuania’s views Belarusian railway network looks very profitable, especially if unofficial information about NATO’s refusal to use Uliyanovsk airport as a transit point is confirmed.
Belarus is also interested in participating in the profitable logistics projects. In January President Lukashenko met with American Institute Jamestown Foundation experts, who are known for their efforts in promoting NDN project in Eastern Europe. Belarusian-Lithuanian ministerial consultations’ agenda also covered preparations for the 9th Lithuanian-Belarusian economic forum to be held in Klaipeda.
Nevertheless, there is no official information about the outcomes of these consultations, implying that the parties have not reached agreements and will continue negotiations. In particular, it is likely that Belarus has included in its political negotiations package a demand to lift visa and economic sanctions against Belarusian citizens. It is known that Lithuania reiterated the condition for the normalization of relations with Belarus, i.e. the release and rehabilitation of political prisoners.
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.