Minsk’s attempt to benefit from the conflict between Moscow and Washington failed
On 21 November an anonymous source in the military and diplomatic circles of Russia told the news agency “Interfax” that Russia could place “Iskander” missiles in Belarus.
Sudden deterioration of the relations between Russia and the USA over placement of missiles in Eastern Europe, culminating with the statement of Russian President Medvedev on 23 November about a potential withdrawal of Russia from the treaty on the reduction of offensive weapons, created a certain political effect in Minsk, i.e. it resulted in a harsh sentence to human rights defender Bialiatski.
The most logical explanation of such a harsh sentence would be the desire of Belarus to demonstrate loyalty to Russia in its conflict with the United States. On the following day, 25 November, President Alexander Lukashenko and Russian leaders discussed a number of issues in Moscow inter alia, military cooperation within the Union State of Belarus and Russia.
While pronouncing harsh verdict to Bialiatski the Belarusian authorities tried to earn benefits from the deteriorating relations between Russia and U.S. However the result of the Belarusian-Russian negotiations on November 25 in Moscow shows that the attempt was rather a failure than a gain for Belarus.
However, the lack of explicit details and results of these talks on military co-operation makes us doubt that Belarus managed to “sell” well its demonstrative break of the relations with the West (which have been complicated anyway). Belarus acted at its own risk, bearing in mind that on 23 November a Russian envoy to NATO Dmitry Rogozin called the plans to deploy missiles “Iskander” in Belarus a “fiction”.
Therefore, the harsh sentence to Bialiatski has not yet opened any new political or economic opportunities for Belarus – rather the other way around – it has significantly narrowed the space for political maneuver.
Last week, Belarusian Foreign Minister Makei participated in the foreign ministers’ meeting of the Eastern Partnership and Visegrad Group initiative hosted by Warsaw. The Belarusian FM emphasized Belarus' interest in cooperation in the transport sector, which could be due to Belarus’ desire to export electricity surplus after Belarus finished construction of the nuclear power plant in Ostrovets. Minsk expressed concerns about Warsaw’s stance on the Belarusian NPP, as it refused to buy electricity from Belarus and supported Vilnius’ protest on this issue. Following accusations by the Belarusian leadership and the state media against western states, including Poland, of training "nationalist militants", Minsk did not agree on the visit of the European Parliament deputies from Lithuania and Germany to Belarus and to the NPP construction site near Ostrovets in particular. In addition, the Belarusian authorities have stepped up efforts to enforce education in Russian in Polish-language schools in Grodno and Vaukavysk. Should a rift in Belarusian-Polish relations persist, the Belarusian authorities are likely to step up the pressure on the Polish-speaking minority in Belarus.