Minsk to suck advantage out of Russo-Ukrainian crisis
The Belarusian authorities aspire to suck advantage out of the Russo-Ukrainian conflict, acting as a mediator in the Russo-Ukrainian cooperation in the military-industrial sphere. The Kremlin has not left attempts to persuade Belarus to start "trade wars" with Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia within the Customs Union framework, in response to their rapprochement with the EU. However, Moscow is unlikely to succeed.
Russia’s Ambassador to Belarus Alexander Surikov said that Russia could increase imports of components for military products from Belarus within the recently launched large-scale programme.
The protracted Russo-Ukrainian conflict has provided the officials in Minsk with an exceptional opportunity to increase their importance on the arms market – to act as a mediator in military-industrial collaboration between the three countries: Russia, Belarus and Ukraine.
Previously, Kiev announced that cooperation with Russia on military production would be suspended. However, military industries of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus are tightly integrated and co-dependent yet since the Soviet era, each one of them specialising on different production types. The main market for Ukrainian military producers is Russia and without this market, Ukraine will hardly preserve her defence industry. Interestingly, the Kremlin also has no replacement for the Ukraine-made military products either in the short or in the mid-term.
Belarus’ balanced stance in the Russo-Ukrainian crisis makes the military-industrial cooperation between the three countries possible. Russia’s Ambassador Surikov underscored, that “Russia has invited Belarus’ military industry to consider producing several thousand names of components that Russia needs." Before that, President Lukashenko also talked about potential cooperation between Belarusian and Ukrainian military production industries.
Meanwhile, the Kremlin has not left attempts to prompt Belarus (and Kazakhstan) to joint actions within the Customs Union, aiming to put pressure on Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova, in response to signing the Association Agreement with the EU. Nevertheless, Belarus insists on making independent decisions and is not willing to delegate the issue of import restrictions to the Eurasian Commission. Belarus digs in heels because reciprocal restrictions on imports from Belarus, which these countries could introduce, would imply heavy losses for Belarus’ economy.
For example, Belarus unilaterally lifted restrictions on beer and chocolate imports from Ukraine, which she had introduced in April – May 2014, i.e. as soon as Ukraine threatened to introduce reciprocal restrictions on imports of some Belarusian products (tyres, refrigerators, dairy products, nitrogen fertilizers, etc.). In addition, unlike Russia, Belarus has not closed her market for products from Moldova. Moreover, Moldova’s Prime Minister Leancă said, that Moldova was looking forward to President Lukashenko’s visit in late September.
It seems, that the ‘moderate’ stance of the Belarusian authorities in the Russo-Ukrainian crisis is playing into the hands of all parties, enabling them to preserve communication channel for the most "vulnerable" issues in Russo-Ukrainian cooperation, such as military-industrial production.
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.