Minsk demonstrates commitment to dialogue with Brussels, but without major concessions
Last week, in the course of his working visit to Brussels, Foreign Minister Makey discussed issues of cooperation between Belarus and the EU and NATO. Makey met with foreign ministers of the EU member states and held talks with EU High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy Federica Mogherini, EU Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Negotiations on EU Enlargement Johannes Hahn, NATO Deputy Secretary General Alexander Vershbow. Recently, contacts between Minsk and Western capitals at the highest level have become quite frequent. The Belarusian authorities are unlikely to expect a major breakthrough in Belarus-EU relations, due to the limited opportunities for mutual concessions. The EU is unlikely to abandon its value-based approach in relations with Minsk and completely forget about the requirement for democratic reforms. In turn, the Belarusian authorities would not agree for systemic democratic changes and further easing-off of the domestic political climate. However, the process of normalization of diplomatic relations between Minsk and Brussels will continue, perhaps with some minor concessions from both sides, eg, facilitation of the visa regime.
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.