Foreign Ministry risks being trapped in own initiative
On January 18, Belarus’ Foreign Minister Vladimir Makey met with the heads of the EU diplomatic missions, the Vatican, the U.S. and Switzerland.
Frequent meetings of the Belarusian Foreign Ministry leadership with diplomatic representatives of Western countries should be considered within the rigid and unchanging frameworks set by Alexander Lukashenko. The latter is still not ready to fulfill the main requirement - the release and rehabilitation of political prisoners.
Following the appointment of Vladimir Makey as Foreign Minister in August 2012, the Ministry has significantly increased its publicity, especially where it concerns Western policies of Belarus. Numerous press releases of the Foreign Ministry can really create the impression of a careful preparation for a diplomatic breakthrough in the relations between Belarus and the European Union and the United States.
In particular, over the last 4 months the Belarusian Foreign Ministry leadership met with the US Charge d’Affaires in Belarus Mr. Goldrich at least three times. A month ago, Mr. Mackay met with Director of the department for Russia, Eastern Partnership, Central Asia, regional cooperation and the OSCE of the European Union External Action Service Mr. Wiegand in Minsk. On January 18, Deputy Foreign Minister Mr. Kupchina held ministerial consultations with the Lithuanian delegation, during which the preparations for the Eastern Partnership Summit to be held in Vilnius in November 2013 were discussed.
However, this active and impressive PR-campaign by Belarusian MFA should be regarded within the existing rigid political framework defined by President Lukashenko. In particular, the Foreign Ministry and personally Minister Makey are incapable of solving the main political conflict between Belarus and the West over the release and rehabilitation of political prisoners. In turn, a number of policy statements made by Western diplomatic representatives in December 2012 (Czech Foreign Minister Schwarzenberg, US Charge d’Affaires Goldrich) demonstrated that Minister Makey failed to soften the EU and US positions in this conflict.
Thus, the Belarusian Foreign Ministry, in a sense, is in a deadlock situation: the appointment of Makey as Foreign Minister simply increased Ministry’s international and public activity and visibility, but on principle incapable to achieve the desired political effect - as the issue of the release of political prisoners is not within the MFA competence
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.