Minsk loses interest in developing contacts with distant countries
Amid improvements in Belarusian-European relations, Minsk has reduced the intensity of contacts with Asian and Latin American states and focused on domestic agenda. The Belarusian Foreign Ministry’s strategy aiming to develop relations with the ‘far arc’ countries has lost its relevance in the context of intense liaisons with Western capitals and a lull in relations with the Kremlin. In addition, relations with China require a revision of the ‘long arc’ concept to identify a special place for Sino-Belarusian relations.
At a meeting with the head of the executive power of Afghanistan Abdullah Abdullah President Lukashenka said that Belarus and Afghanistan should move from talks to building concrete cooperation.
The Belarusian leadership has managed to break through its international isolation, including through holding the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly in Minsk, which has reduced the need to demonstrate foreign policy successes to the population by establishing relations with the leaders of the ‘far arc’ states. In addition, Minsk is attempting to take maximum advantage of the CEI chairmanship, which prompts to focus foreign policy efforts on the West and reduce contacts with the Middle East, Asia, Africa and Latin America.
Some economic recovery in H1 2017 has allowed President Lukashenka to relax efforts in searching for economic partners in the ‘far arc’ states. Unlike in previous years, the president has focused on the domestic political agenda and the participation in propaganda activities inside the country, rather than making foreign trips and meeting with the leaders of the Middle East, Asia, Africa and Latin America.
The Belarusian Foreign Ministry is likely to revise the ‘far arc’ concept and enhance China's role in Belarus' foreign policy. Minsk is likely to balance out human rights claims from Western capitals and political and economic pressure from the Kremlin by developing relations with Beijing, rather than other ‘far arc’ states.
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.