Belarusian authorities aspire to boost voters expectations from cooperation with China
The Belarusian state media have launched a media campaign to promote Sino-Belarusian cooperation in order to demonstrate prospects for prosperity growth amid dwindling state resources to buy the loyalty of the electorate. The authorities aim to drag people’s attention away from criticism voiced by the opposition about the authorities’ failure to find a way out of the protracted recession. In addition, the Belarusian leadership aspires to strengthen its international position and consolidate its media image of the guarantor of regional stability and security.
In late September 2016, President Lukashenka will make a state visit to China.
The Belarusian authorities are unlikely to count on a breakthrough in Sino-Belarusian economic cooperation and on a major loan for the Belarusian economy. That said, the major ‘arrival’ of China in Belarus was announced back in 2006. Independent analysts say that until now Sino-Belarusian economic and investment cooperation demonstrated modest and rather controversial results.
In all likelihood, the state media aims to distract the population from the lingering economic crisis and falling living standards in the midst of the parliamentary campaign. Broad information campaign about the prospect of large Chinese investments and loans may help to reduce people’s interest in resonant election campaigns of opposition candidates.
Events in Ukraine no longer have a huge impact on public sentiment in Belarus and the authorities have exhausted their potential of peacekeeping efforts to keep their popular ratings high. In addition, in the absence of positive results in the economy, the Belarusian government anticipates to increase trust in public institutions by making high-level contacts with the Chinese leadership.
By strengthening Sino-Belarusian military and bilateral cooperation, Minsk aspires to support its image as a guarantor of regional stability and security and as a platform for international cooperation. That said, some analysts say that the threat of military-political pressure on Belarus from the Kremlin has increased amid devalued peacemaking efforts of Minsk in the Ukrainian crisis.
The fuss in the state-run media about Lukashenka’s official visit to Beijing also has drawn away people’s attention from the visit to China of Svetlana Alexievich, this year’s Nobel laureate.
The Belarusian authorities aim to create a domestic political resonance regarding the prospects for Sino-Belarusian cooperation in order to distract voters from economic difficulties during the parliamentary election campaign.
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.