Lukashenka concerned about his image in Europe
Alexander Lukashenka is very sensitive about shortcomings in border guards’ activities. On the one hand, this is due to the fact, that he briefly served in the Soviet KGB’s Border Troops. Both his eldest sons served in the border troops, too. On the other, border security is a very important issue for the Belarusian-European dialogue. As well, it is one of the few Minsk’s potential trump cards.
Following the audit at the State Border Committee held by the Security Council, Lukashenka organised a debriefing. Officials did not report exactly what shortcomings in the work of the border agency had caused the president’s discontent. However, during the debriefing they emphasised that Belarus was a transit country. That said, ensuring economic security is border guards’ one of the most important tasks.
This suggests that at least one of the discussion issues at the debriefing was smuggling from Belarus to the EU. Previously, European countries accused Belarus of being a major source (or a transit country) of contraband cigarettes. Apparently, there were discrepancies between the smuggling volumes to the EU unravelled by the Belarusian border guards, and those identified by their EU colleagues on the other side of the border, which put efficiency of the Belarusian border guards in question.
Minsk is very interested in normalising relations with the EU. Amid immutability of the economic and political system in Belarus and the lack of reforms, security issues, (including border security) are virtually the only "commodity", which the Belarusian authorities may attempt "selling" to Europe in exchange for political and financial support. That said, Lukashenka regards the shortcomings in the work of the Belarusian border guards, which come to Europe’s notice, as a potential obstacle in improving relations between Belarus and the EU. The Belarusian authorities are likely to step up measures to improve border control and enhance control over the border agency by the security services. If necessary, Lukashenka may reshuffle the State Border Control Committee’s staff.
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.