Minsk interested in EU dialogue only on economic issues
Belarusian authorities continue to ignore activities within the EU Dialogue on modernization with Belarus, where the opposition and independent experts play an important role. In turn, Belarusian authorities keep in contact with the EU officials directly and discuss only economic, rather than political issues of bilateral cooperation.
On November 21st, the second round of expert dialogue between EU and Belarus on economic and financial affairs was held in Brussels.
As we have mentioned before, the Belarusian authorities are not interested in taking part in the EU Porgramme launched in spring 2012 on expert-political cooperation “Dialogue on modernization with Belarus”. The authorities ignore this programme because it was launched without their participation, but with the participation of the Belarusian opposition and independent expert community. The authorities refused to take part in the launch due to the fact that the programme meant to address highly sensitive political and economic issues for Lukashenko’s regime.
Therefore, Belarusian officials prefer maintaining direct contacts with the EU and address politically neutral issues without the opposition’s and independent experts’ involvement. The November 21st event was attended by Deputy Economy Minister Golukhov, Deputy Finance Minister Ermolovich, Permanent Representative of Belarus in the EU Evdochenko, as well as representatives from the National Bank of Belarus and other agencies. From the EU side, there were Head of Department for the EU neighboring countries and macro-financial assistance of the European Commission Directorate General for Economy and Finance, Mr. Temprano and officials from the European External Action Service of the European Commission. The next round of talks was scheduled for autumn 2013.
In addition, the Belarusian authorities have launched an alternative programme for expert dialogue “Smart Networks”. They invited young professionals to take part in it with an incentive that they will receive job offers from state analytical and expert centres to develop professionally. The programme is yet to be formalized and will be carried out under the auspices of the Information and Analytical Centre of the Presidential Administration and with the participation of public administration and education bodies. The project work is organized in several thematic areas: the need for political reforms in Belarus, the need for privatization, the role of a welfare state, European and Eurasian integration, etc.
The situation is developing so that both ‘expert dialogues’ will continue co-existing in parallel and independently of one another. Similar parallelism and mutual independence will be preserved in the contacts of the authorities and the opposition with the EU and U.S.: the authorities will not allow the opposition to mediate the dialogue process and will focus discussions on economic issues. In addition, the authorities have a number of regional security issues to put on the agenda for a possible dialogue with the EU (smuggling, drug trafficking, illegal migration, etc).
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.