Minsk has to play on the contradictions between the U.S. and Russia
Belarusian Foreign Ministry and Makey himself have raised the stakes in political bargaining between Belarus and the West. However, chances of Belarus revising its position about the (non) recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia are very low, so this issue is unlikely to be included in an existing set of requirements by the EU and U.S. to Belarus.
On October 30th, at joint news conference in Minsk, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov and Belarusian Minister of Foreign Affairs Makey said that Belarus’ position regarding the recognition of the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia could change.
Belarus’ main goal during the Russo-Belarusian negotiations was to play on the existing contradictions between Russia and the U.S. That is why Makey’s reply to the question about Belarus’ position on Abkhazia and South Ossetia sounded extremely evasive: “Life is not standing still. Everything flows, everything changes”. The statements’ primary target group was Western observers.
Minsk is forced to act in this way due to the Kremlin’s consistent position regarding the political conflict between Belarus and the West. Minister Lavrov has once again made it clear that Russia considers the conflict Belarus’ internal affair and will not interfere to back up Minsk. At the same time, Lavrov expressed readiness to oppose unilateral sanctions by the UN (which is hardly relevant to Belarus, and is unlikely to become relevant).
We have to admit, that Makey’s maneuver succeeded. The very next day, U.S. Charge d’Affaires in Belarus Mr. Goldrich met with Makey’s Deputy Mr. Guryanov, against very favourable information background to discuss prospects for expanded cooperation with Belarus and implementation of “mutually beneficial projects in trade, economic and investment spheres”.
It is noteworthy that this autumn there was some synchronicity in meetings between Charge d’Affaires Goldrich and senior Belarusian Foreign Ministry amid meetings with Minister Lavrov. Prior to his visit to Moscow on September 19th, Minister Makey met with Goldrich and discussed the “key issues in the Belarusian-American relations”.
Such ‘balancing’ tactics is rather traditional for Belarus’ foreign policy and allows playing on the contradictions between Moscow and Washington. However, it should be noted that this tactic fails to have an impact on Kremlin’s position: Kremlin neither provides greater support in foreign policy, nor mitigates requirements in trade and economy. On the contrary, conflicts happen more often, in particular in the energy sector.
Makey’s reservation about potential shift in Belarus’ attitude about the (non) recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia should be treated as pure rhetoric. Such a step is highly unlikely, since previously, after Georgian Parliamentary elections, President Lukashenko said that “Belarus should not lose Georgia”. Finally, today, this issue has essentially lost its relevance even in Russia.
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.