The Foreign Ministry of Belarus increased its activity in the West
Last week, officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs held a number of public events in Belarus and the EU, namely, in Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, Serbia and Latvia.
Minsk is actively attempting to resume dialogue with the West. The character of Belarusian statements and suggestions is becoming more constructive; however, nothing is said about the fulfillment of two major conditions: the release and rehabilitation of political prisoners.
The rise in diplomatic activity in the West is most likely explained by the fact that IMF mission started work in Belarus on October, 18. Belarus is highly interested in resuming cooperation with the Fund (at least on the issue of debt restructuring), which is a ground for diplomatic activities, although mostly of economic character.
Therefore, it is predictable that activities of officials from the Foreign Ministry are limited to economic cooperation. In the period from October 15-19, a representative from Belarus, Mr. Voronetsky, took part in a conference of member states of United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime. He also participated in the annual meeting to review the fulfillment of economic and environmental commitments of the OSCE member states in Vienna on 16-17 October. On October 18 – 20, 2012 Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Belarus, Elena Kupchina, went on a working trip to Germany. On October 17, a Belarusian Economy Day was held in the German city of Friedrichshafen. On October 18, in the Dutch city of Tilburg the ambassador of Belarus, Mrs. Elena Gritsenko, had a meeting with law students of Tilburg University. Finally, on October 15-19, the Latvian town of Jelgava played host to a Week of Belarusian culture.
These events should be viewed as domestic activities of the Belarusian Interior Ministry. In particular, on October 15, Press Secretary of the MFA demonstrated a mild reaction to the decision of the EU Foreign Affairs Council to extend sanctions against Belarusian authorities and business. He summoned the EU “to abandon its sanctions-based mentality and make an effort, in turn, to restore the atmosphere of mutual trust”.
On October 19 in Minsk, Deputy Foreign Minister, Alexander Guryanov, and Director of the National Agency of Investment and Privatization, Dmitry Klevzhits, had a meeting with directors and representatives of trade and commercial departments of twenty foreign embassies accredited in Belarus. However, as anticipated, officials from the Belarusian Foreign Ministry ignored political questions, which is the main claim of the EU and USA against official Minsk. Thus, at a press conference on October 19, MFA Press Secretary Andrei Savinykh reproached the West for having a policy of double standards in regard to Belarus and insisted that Belarus should have the right to transition to democracy gradually and independently. In other words, this implies that President Lukashenko is still not ready to make the main concession, namely to release (and rehabilitate) political prisoners.
It should be expected that Belarusian diplomatic service will continue its activity to establish economic relations with the West. Meanwhile, the solution of the main political issue is under the authority of Presidential Administration and Alexander Lukashenko personally.
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.