EURONEST without Belarus
On 3 May the first meeting of the Parliamentary Assembly of the “Eastern Partnership” EURONEST was held in Brussels. The Belarusian delegation was not represented at the event or participated in the inaugural signing of the documents.
The Statute of the EURONEST allows for the participation in the Assembly of countries that meet democratic standards of the OSCE, i.e. Belarus lost its chance to participate in this international platform. The Statute of the EURONEST allows for the participation in the Assembly of countries that meet democratic standards of the OSCE, i.e. Belarus lost its chance to participate in this international platform.Earlier, Minsk was making efforts to form a “domestic lobby” in the EURONEST, however it is obvious that such lobby was unsuccessful vis-a-vis all 6 parliamentary delegations of the EURONEST or the European Parliament.
Therefore, the EURONEST started in the "one to six" format. Following Lukashenko’s diplomatic row (see issue of 25-30 April) against the Ukrainian President and the Chairman of the European Commission, it was obvious the EURONEST would be launched without Belarus. However, the Belarusian Parliament and the Foreign Ministry came up with particularly strong statements, expressing doubts about the legitimacy of the entire "Eastern Partnership" (the MFA) and vowing to ignore the decision of the inaugural forum (the Parliament).
Such a drastic reaction of the Foreign Ministry raises concerns about the continuation of support by the “inner lobby” of Belarus in the EURONEST. Nevertheless, the Belarusian MPs left in their statement an open door for the possibility of further cooperation with the EU. Potential for restoring partnership between the EU and Belarus is very vague, primarily due to the elimination of partnership and dialogue tools (OSCE, EURONEST), and also due to the serious deterioration of relations with some countries after 19 December (Poland, Germany, Ukraine). At the moment it is very difficult to predict what political force and what institutional platform would be able to overcome this crisis.
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.