The EU is one step away from imposing sanctions
Following the pronounced sentence to A. Sannikov on 14 May the "Belarusian issue" re-entered the international agenda. In the course of the past week the issue of human rights violations in Belarus and the issue of sanctions against its leaders were regularly discussed at the highest international level.
The verdicts against the Belarusian opposition were denounced by Ashton (on 15 May), Clinton (on 17 May), as well as by the Foreign Ministers of Germany, France, Poland, the Czech Republic and Russia (at joint meetings on 20 and 21 May). However, to the merit of Belarus, the views about sanctions are divided.
The lack of international consensus regarding the introduction of economic sanctions gives Belarus grounds to expect that the EU economic sanctions will not be imposed and it continues a tough line in sentencing the post-elections protesters.
Firstly, the re-opened discussions about the sanctions speak about the exhaustion of means to influence the situation in the country by the international community. Joint condemning statements by the USA, the EU and Russia issued in January and February had zero effect: individuals recognized as political prisoners remain behind the bars and courts continue issuing tough sentences to ex-Presidential candidates and demonstrators.
Secondly, such behavior by the Belarusian authorities puts the international community into an awkward position and pushes for a fro-active response. Hillary Clinton and Radoslaw Sikorski talked about it the most openly, calling for targeted economic sanctions against the Belarusian leadership, including a number of state enterprises-exporters. In particular, the media reported the "blacklist" of enterprises included state-owned companies Belneftekhim, "Triple", Beltechexport and Belaruskali.
However, the responsibility for the consequences of the economic sanctions has become a restricting factor. The positions of Russia and the Czech Republic, as well as the previous position of the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry about the futility of sanctions have a softening effect. The Foreign Ministers of these countries condemned the Belarusian government however opposed to the introduction of the economic sanctions, which could affect the population. Besides, Belarus managed to persuade the Lithuanian Minister of Transport and Communications E. Masiulis to defend its interests: on 19 May he talked about the dangers of introduction of such sanctions to the Lithuanian interests. Further, on 19 May it was announced that Belarus will not receive a loan from Russia as expected, which could be regarded as a kind of sanction. Additional economic sanctions are now able to put the EU in the position of the catalyst of the Belarusian crisis.
Thirdly, Belarus prepares a response and the Foreign Minister already warned about a possible travel ban for a number of Belarusian politicians. Also the delay in sentencing of N. Statkevich and D. Uss suggests that the Belarusian government reserves the option of pronouncing more or less severe sentences to the ex-Presidential candidates, depending on the outcome of consideration of the issue of sanctions.
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.