Russo-Ukrainian exacerbation poses threats to Belarus
A radical deterioration in the Russo-Ukrainian relations has devalued Minsk as a negotiation platform, which was one of the few foreign policy achievements for the Belarusian authorities. In addition, destabilisation in Ukraine may deepen the socio-economic crisis in Belarus, and enhance Minsk’s dependence on the Kremlin.
The diplomatic break between Moscow and Kiev over Crimea and the waiver of the visa-free regime between the two states is likely to prompt million Ukrainian migrant workers to return to Ukraine. Belarus may be exposed to an influx of Ukrainian migrant workers, which is likely to deepen the crisis on the Belarusian labour market. However, the majority of migrant workers may remain in Ukraine. Amid dim outlook for a visa-free regime with the EU, if these workers do not find jobs on the domestic market, Ukraine is likely to face massive social protests. The latter may very quickly translate into political demands to restore relations with Russia. Even at the cost of giving up Crimea. Political instability in Ukraine, which is one of the major export markets for Belarusian goods, is likely to exacerbate financial and economic crisis in Belarus and increase Belarus’ dependence on the Russian market and the Russian financial support.
The break in political communication between Kiev and Moscow cancels Minsk as a negotiating platform, which is the main asset in the Belarusian foreign policy. Hence, the West may somewhat lose its interest in normalisation with Belarus. That said, the Belarusian authorities would be prompted to deepen the military-political cooperation with Russia.
The Belarusian authorities are likely to use all possible channels to contribute to the Russo-Ukrainian stabilisation. However, Minsk has lesser opportunities than in 2014: the Belarusian authorities have lost Moscow’s trust and have not formed a strategic partnership with Kyiv. In case of political instability in Ukraine, Belarus is likely to enhance border security at the Belarusian-Ukrainian border. In addition, there is a slim chance that Minsk may become more sensitive to meeting the EU requirements as to the Belarusian domestic policy in order to preserve a dialogue with the West.
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.