Belarus will attempt to escape military entanglement between NATO and Russia
Belarus’ calls for reconciliation between Russia and the West, and her cautious attitude to the military activity in the region is hardly a sign of pacifism. The Belarusian authorities are well aware that as the confrontation between Moscow and NATO deepens, they would find it increasingly difficult to pursue a policy of equidistance from the parties to the conflict. In addition, enhanced military presence in the region is creating additional threats of clashes between the parties to the conflict.
NATO and Russia stepping-up their activities and a military build-up close to Belarusian borders has complicated the situation for Minsk and narrowed the room for manoeuvre in relations with Moscow. Nevertheless, Belarus has avoided harsh rhetoric and has not taken explicitly pro-Kremlin stance on regional security issues.
June has been marked by full-scale NATO exercises very close to the Belarusian border. On June 7th, 2016, NATO launched Anaconda-2016, its largest exercise. Other exercises, such as ‘Swift Response’, ‘Baltops’, and ‘Saber Strike’ are held in parallel. Their scenario carries a clear message for the Kremlin: the Alliance is consolidated and has the political will and capacity to protect its members. All Russia’s attempts to divide the Euro-Atlantic community were to no avail.
The Belarusian authorities are explicitly neutral when speaking about the ongoing events. The state propaganda is only outlining facts, without making any assessments. The Belarusian leadership has claimed to have interest in both, the West and the East and pointed to the lack of interest in aggravating the situation in the region. The Belarusian Foreign Ministry has concluded that contradictions between the key centres of power in Europe over security matters are gradually transforming into a real military build-up. That said, the Belarusian authorities do not hide their negative attitude towards the foreign military presence in the neighbouring states, as such steps only escalate the conflict. In this respect, according to the Belarusian authorities, Belarus’ refusal to enable the deployment of a Russian military base in Belarus in autumn 2015 could be a positive example for all the neighbouring countries. However, the military build-up near the Belarusian borders is already irreversible. Minsk can only observe the Kremlin’s military preparations in Russia. The Belarusian authorities do not have any influence on the Russian plans.
The unfolding situation is a challenge for the Belarusian authorities. Minsk cannon bluntly disregard Moscow’s views on regional security issues. Moreover, it has move towards Moscow in order to downplay concerns in the Kremlin about the possible ‘betrayal’ of Russia’s interests by Belarus. That said, such concerns are only increasing. Having this in mind, one should treat the statement by the Ukrainian intelligence about the air reconnaissance of facilities in the neighbouring states by the Russian military from the Belarusian airspace, accordingly. The Belarusian authorities are pursuing the strategy of balancing, when each step towards the West and Ukraine is balanced by a gesture towards Russia and vice versa. Evidently, this state of affairs will be preserved in the near future.
Belarusian authorities are consistent in their negative perception of NATO’s increasing military activity in the region and the deployment of military contingents in the neighbouring states. This could be due to fears of possible reaction from Russia, which is reinforcing its military forces in the west. Moscow may step up its pressure on Minsk in order to drag Belarus into the confrontation on the Russian side. The fact, that influential circles in Moscow regard the post-Soviet space as a field for confrontation with the West, means that the Belarusian authorities do not have other means than foreign policy manoeuvring. If the confrontation enhances, such tactics may become a challenge and after a certain point, simply impossible. And Belarus will be forced to chose: between a losing option with Russia against the West, and any other option, not necessarily in favour of the West, but which will be regarded by the Kremlin as anti-Russian.
President Lukashenka continues to rotate staff and rejuvenate heads of departments and universities following new appointments in regional administrations. Apparently, new Information Minister Karliukevich could somewhat relax the state policy towards the independent media and introduce technological solutions for retaining control over Belarus’ information space. New rectors could strengthen the trend for soft Belarusization in the regions and tighten the disciplinary and ideological control over the student movement in the capital.
President Lukashenka has appointed new ministers of culture and information, the new rector of the Belarusian State University and heads of three universities, assistants in the Minsk and Vitebsk regions.
The new Information Minister Karliukevich is likely to avoid controversial initiatives similar to those former Minister Ananich was famous for, however, certainly within his capacities. Nevertheless, the appointment of Belarusian-speaking writer Karliukevich could be regarded as the state’s cautious attempt to relax environment in the media field and ensure the sovereignty of national media.
The Belarusian leadership has consolidated the trend for mild Belarusization by appointing a young historian and a ‘reasonable nationalist’, Duk as the rector at the Kuleshov State University in Mogilev. Meanwhile, while choosing the head of the Belarusian State University, the president apparently had in mind the strengthening of the ideological loyalty among the teaching staff and students at the main university in order to keep the youth movement at bay. Previously, Korol was the rector of the Kupala State University in Grodno, where he held purges among the disloyal teaching staff.
The trend for the renewal of mid-ranking executives and their rejuvenation has confirmed. The age of the Culture Minister and three new rectors varies from 39 to 44 years old.