Minsk seeks to demonstrate to NATO its independence
Minsk continues manoeuvring between the West and Russia in anticipation to cooperate with each party to the conflict. Minsk aims to establish multi-level communication channels with the West, while it offers further cooperation in the security field to Russia, and promises to the West to facilitate stability in the region. That said, the Belarusian authorities are not ready to commit to the West in the security field.
Belarus is the only Eastern Partnership country, which was not invited to the Warsaw NATO Summit. The Alliance leadership invited even the most consistent Russian ally, Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan. The fact that Belarus was not invited was a clear message to Minsk that it could sit on two chairs in political matters, but security issues required taking a clear side.
On July 6th-7th, 2016, Belarusian Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei paid a working visit to Latvia. Among other things, during the meeting with his Latvian counterpart Edgars Rinkevich, he emphasised the development of inter-institutional contacts, including in the field of defence. That said, Latvia is currently representing NATO states in Belarus.
Developing a dialogue and cooperation between different ministries and departments of the two countries requires trust and understanding between the parties. In the near future, Belarusian and Latvian state bodies are planning to conclude agreements on cooperation. Since both parties raised defence matters during negotiations, such an agreement might also be concluded between the Defence Ministries of Belarus and Latvia.
In addition, Minsk intends to develop relations with NATO and facilitate Russia’s dialogue with the Alliance. While the latter could be regarded as an attempt to preserve Minsk’s image as a ‘peacekeeping platform’, Minsk-NATO relations is a complex phenomenon.
Belarus is concerned about potential escalation between Russia and NATO. If current crisis translates into an armed conflict, Belarus is unlikely to stay away from it. Russia would perceive such an attempt as a betrayal, or a hostile move with all the consequences. The West does not trust the Belarusian authorities. Despite Minsk’s political manoeuvres, from a military standpoint, NATO assumes that in the case of a military conflict, Belarus will be committed to Russia. Hence, there would be no other alternatives for NATO than military pressure on Belarus.
Belarusian National Security and Defence sector is extremely closed. Establishing direct contacts between the relevant agencies of Belarus and Latvia will not only contribute to mutual trust, but would make Belarus more clear and "transparent" for the EU and NATO. Belarus and Latvia have no historical contradictions and Belarus has a traditionally strong lobby in Riga. This means, for Minsk, Latvia is clear and predictable partner.
Hiding behind the rhetoric of facilitating confidence-building between NATO and Russia, Minsk will seek to establish multi-level communication channels with the West. If successful, such a policy would have a long-term importance for Belarus’ national security. NATO would stop perceiving Belarus together with Russia as a threat, albeit hypothetical. And the Kremlin would have fewer possibilities to drag Belarus into a potential conflict with NATO: it is better to have a relatively friendly neutral state than push Belarus into the arms of the West. That said, Belarusian defence capacity against the background of many NATO countries looks quite impressive, albeit obsolete.
President Lukashenka continues to rotate staff and rejuvenate heads of departments and universities following new appointments in regional administrations. Apparently, new Information Minister Karliukevich could somewhat relax the state policy towards the independent media and introduce technological solutions for retaining control over Belarus’ information space. New rectors could strengthen the trend for soft Belarusization in the regions and tighten the disciplinary and ideological control over the student movement in the capital.
President Lukashenka has appointed new ministers of culture and information, the new rector of the Belarusian State University and heads of three universities, assistants in the Minsk and Vitebsk regions.
The new Information Minister Karliukevich is likely to avoid controversial initiatives similar to those former Minister Ananich was famous for, however, certainly within his capacities. Nevertheless, the appointment of Belarusian-speaking writer Karliukevich could be regarded as the state’s cautious attempt to relax environment in the media field and ensure the sovereignty of national media.
The Belarusian leadership has consolidated the trend for mild Belarusization by appointing a young historian and a ‘reasonable nationalist’, Duk as the rector at the Kuleshov State University in Mogilev. Meanwhile, while choosing the head of the Belarusian State University, the president apparently had in mind the strengthening of the ideological loyalty among the teaching staff and students at the main university in order to keep the youth movement at bay. Previously, Korol was the rector of the Kupala State University in Grodno, where he held purges among the disloyal teaching staff.
The trend for the renewal of mid-ranking executives and their rejuvenation has confirmed. The age of the Culture Minister and three new rectors varies from 39 to 44 years old.