International support for the Belarusian opposition
On May 29th in Brussels, during the working group on Belarus at the Parliamentary Assembly of the EURONEST session, United Civil Party Chairman Anatol Lyabedzka proposed to audit foreign donor assistance to civil society in Belarus.
Liabedzka’s audit initiative could further drive the UCP party away from the political coalitions’ formation process in Belarus. The effective funding of Belarusian civil society through intermediaries in Europe problem does exist, but the key to its solution is rather in Minsk than in Brussels.
Liabedzka made his statement during the debate about the effectiveness of the support to the Belarusian independent media and in particular about various EU intermediaries’ role in the redistribution of funds from the primary donor to the final recipient in Belarus. This is a very interesting topic, which touches a complex system of donors, intermediaries, and recipients’ interests inside and outside Belarus. In Belarus, recipients are used to acting by the prevailingly informal rules.
In fact, the latter, - the existing system of funds redistribution - essentially marginalizes the UCP initiative to carry out the audit. Even if this proposal is supported by MEPs in Brussels, in Belarus the UCP initiative may be in a political vacuum, and will further limit the ability of parties to engage in political coalitions.
In particular, “For Freedom” movement leader Milinkevich said that he saw no room for such an audit. The leader of the Belarusian Christian Democracy party Organizing Committee Rymashevski took middle position: audit was needed, but without naming the funds’ recipients to protect them from prosecution.
Simultaneously, all the participants in this discussion directly or indirectly recognized that it would be impossible to improve the situation in Belarus in terms of foreign aid legalization and providing security guarantees at the same time. At the very least, Liabedzka and Rymasheuski’s proposals mainly addressed the potential ‘auditors’ from the EU, and not from Belarus.
Given the circumstances, foreign donor assistance’s audit - if carried out – will at best result in a shift of financial flows and in recipients’ regrouping. However, the fundamental problem remains unresolved: how political work in Belarus could be legalized – this problem roots in the extensive system of foreign intermediaries, and not always effective spending.
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.