Case of Amriev: Minsk has discredited itself in eyes of international community
The Belarusian authorities are attempting to demonstrate to the Kremlin their reliability as a partner in sensitive issues. Conventionally, the Belarusian authorities prioritise practical solutions to compliance with formalities in emerging matters. However, what seems quite reasonable in Minsk, may negatively affect the country’s reputation in the outer world.
Last week, Belarus extradited Murad Amriev, a Russian citizen and the world champion in the Mixed Martial Arts, to the Russian authorities. Previously, the Belarusian authorities had extradited the driver of a Russian opposition politician Denis Voronenkov, who was recently assassinated in Kyiv, to the Russian secret services. Such extraditions form a common practice in Belarus.
Pragmatism bordering unscrupulousness creates difficulties in positioning Belarus as an independent player. By violating her international obligations and domestic extradition procedures in the interests of the Russian secret services, Belarus has damaged her reputation in the eyes of international community. In addition, the lack of official commentaries about the detention and extradition of Russian citizens could create an impression that the Belarusian authorities have no control over their power bodies. Indirectly, such a behaviour works in favour of conspiracy theories about the Kremlin’s unlimited influence in Belarus, especially amid the Russian authorities’ refusal to extradite Belarusian national Yuri Baranchik, accused of fomenting ethnic hatred for writing for Russian chauvinistic information resources, to Belarus. Such a difference in approaches emphasizes the unequal nature of the Russo-Belarusian relations to the international community.
Minsk will not complicate relations with Moscow over Russian domestic issues, which have no direct effect on Belarus’ interests. Hardly being a rule of law state, Belarus in such situations is guided by practical considerations, rather than legal procedures. This undermines Belarus’ image as a state which complies with its commitments. Yet evet worse, the Belarusian authorities create an impression as being dependent, untrustworthy and capable of placing the wishes of Moscow or even the Russian regional authorities ahead of the domestic legislation.
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.