Military cooperation between Belarus and US will be very modest
Belarusian-American military cooperation will directly depend on bilateral political dialogue. That said, Belarus and the United States do not seem to have high ambitions to drastically improve the bilateral relations. Primarily, this is due to limited coinciding interests of the two countries within the bilateral framework. ‘Russian factor’ pays a considerably unimportant role in how Belarusian-American relations develop.
The issue with military attachés accreditation in Minsk and Washington has been de facto resolved. So far, the attachés will have concurrent accreditation: the military attaché from the American Embassy in Ukraine will be responsible for Belarus and the Belarusian military attaché in Havana will be responsible for relations with the US.
The US Embassy in Belarus’ reception to celebrate the Independence Day in late June was a remarkable event for two reasons. Firstly, the military attaché from the US Embassy in Kyiv arrived in Minsk, who would also be responsible for relations with Belarus. Secondly, representatives of the Belarusian Defence Ministry attended the event for the first time in a long time. They chose to wear civilian clothes rather than military uniform.
Accreditation of military attaches is clearly an important event. However, it only means that Belarus and the United States are eager to step up a dialogue and bilateral cooperation. A break-through in Belarusian-American military relations is very unlikely due to several reasons.
Firstly, and most importantly, the US regards Minsk only in conjunction with Moscow, which is evident from the fact that Belarus was not invited to the NATO Summit in Warsaw. Secondly, the United States have very narrow interest in Belarus and therefore will not put forward ambitious goals. Thirdly, the United State’s appeal to Minsk lies rather in financial and geopolitical sphere, than in military: Minsk seeks to gain access to Western funds and to expand room for political manoeuvring. Minsk appears to believe that improving relations with the US will automatically improve relations between Belarus and other Western countries. Fourthly, both countries seek to avoid steps, which could challenge Russia.
The fact, that Belarusian and American military attachés will have a concurrent accreditation implies that both countries are not eager to develop a deep and comprehensive cooperation in the defence field. In diplomatic practice, concurrent accreditation means limited, mainly protocol activity.
The American military attaché in Belarus is likely to monitor the overall situation and carry out non-political activities aiming to build trust between the two states, rather than establish relations of alliance and influence. His functions will include:
- Assist Belarusian servicemen in preparing for participation in international peacekeeping missions
- Organise educational programs for military personnel and cadets (eg English language courses)
- Provide technical assistance in mine clearance
- Establish cooperation in military medicine field.
This is about it at this stage. How long this stage will last will depend on the Belarusian-American political dialogue. The strength of the defence co-operation would be a marker for the success / failure of the political dialogue; it is unlikely to play an independent role in the Belarusian-American relations.
Unlike Russo-Belarusian relations, where defence cooperation plays an independent role and often deviates from political cooperation, Belarusian-American cooperation in the military field is closely linked to the political dialogue between Minsk and Washington. Amid existing tension in the region, extensive military cooperation between Belarus and the United States is out of question. Neither country is ready for this. When building relations with the United States, Belarus will seek to resolve her financial and political issues. For the US, the primary concern will be to raise general awareness of the situation in Belarus in order to address security needs of the NATO allies. In addition, the US may assist Belarus in fields, which are politically neutral and positive at the same time.
Image: Sgt. Kissta M. Feldner/Army
Following crackdown and arrests of participants in the spring protests, the authorities resumed arrests as punishment for participating in street protests in addition to fines, which for some time were the only punishment for political activity. On September 22nd, 2017, the riot police detained the Belarusian National Congress leader Nikolai Statkevich, the opposition politician was placed in detention centre on Akrestin street. On the same day, after serving seven days of arrest, another BNC leader, Vladimir Neklyaev, was released. He was sentenced for organising a street protest on September 8th against the West-2017 exercises. Other participants in the protest have been fined too. The authorities are likely to continue to use fines and arrests against political activists to punish for their protest activity.