Minsk advocates for Helsinki-2
Minsk aspires to use all means available, including the OSCE to relax tension between Russia and the West. Minsk hopes that vigorous diplomacy and peace efforts will help reduce the risks of being drawn in the regional confrontation.
At the OSCE Ministerial Council in Hamburg, Foreign Minister Makei said that Belarus was ready to host a meeting for the leaders of Russia, the US, EU, and China "to have a frank conversation about the reasons of the crisis in the international relations”.
Last week, the OSCE released the final report on the 2016 parliamentary elections in Belarus, emphasising that despite some improvements, the elections were non-transparent and non-competitive, and recommending improving the electoral procedures. The Belarusian Foreign Ministry said the conclusion created a basis for a dialogue. On December 9th, 2016, Minsk hosted a panel discussion on the implementation of the National Human Rights Plan with the participation of public officials and civil society representatives.
Belarus’ cooperation with the EU and international institutions has taken a constructive path. The Belarusian authorities aim to strengthen the Belarusian-European relations by enhancing Belarus’ image as a neutral state and a peace facilitator in the regional conflicts. That said, Minsk is eager to continue the Minsk process, preserve and develop good-neighbourly relations with Ukraine.
The Belarusian authorities believe the Belarusian-European normalisation is important, primarily because they are interested in reducing tension in the region, which threatens Belarus’ security. Minsk hopes that vigorous diplomacy and peace efforts will help reduce the risks of being drawn in the regional confrontation.
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.