Belaya Rus offers to mediation services in Belarus-West conflict
On February 26th, Belaya Rus quango Chairman Mr. Radkov and “Self-Defense” Polish party Chairman Mr. Kuropatwinski signed a cooperation agreement in Minsk.
“Belaya Rus” quango strengthens its international legitimacy in Belarus’ Western policy direction, in particular in relations with Poland. As conceived by the organization’s leadership, the agreement would enhance the ability of “Belaya Rus’” participation in multilateral and bilateral projects with the EU, aimed at civil society and the expert community in Belarus.
The cooperation agreement with the Polish party is an important stage in the international legitimization of “Belaya Rus” quango. Popularity and influence of the “Self-Defense” party in Poland and in the European political field are irrelevant in this case. Belarus authorities die to show a “breakthrough” in the country’s international isolation both, with regard to Minsk-Brussels relations and to Minsk-Warsaw bilateral relations in particular.
What “Belaya Rus” does is likely to be consistent with the Belarus’ efforts to reorganize the EU programme “Dialogue on modernization with the Belarusian society”, aiming at excluding some independent Belarusian experts from taking part in the programme. Earlier it was reported that the Belarusian Foreign Ministry sent proposals to reform the programme to Brussels, reforms envisaged cooperation with only those experts, which would be defined by Belarus. In particular, during the meeting on February 26th, a “Belaya Rus” representative emphasized that cooperation interests with the “Self-Defense” party were strictly the information analysis field.
“Belaya Rus’” targeting European cooperation is likely to have a broader dimension, namely, to limit participation of Belarusian NGOs in the EaP “Civil Society Forum”, a non-political dimension of the “Eastern Partnership”. If successful, it will secure comfortable working conditions for the Belarusian authorities in both programmes.
In addition, the government is interested to start cooperation with the EU in the framework of these programmes from scratch, because both programmes (the “Eastern Partnership” and the “Dialogue on modernization with Belarusian society”) were launched without the participation of the Belarusian authorities or the pro-government organizations, but with their opponents in Belarus.
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.