Security: influence of army and China in Belarus have enhanced
Trends of the last week: the army has enhanced its influence through new appointments; the authorities have improved management of the power block; the security and defence sectors have not yet resolved the pressing issue with rational use of resources (financial and human); Belarus and China have expanded cooperation in the security field.
On July 25th, 2017, the Belarusian Interior Ministry and the Chinese Public Security Ministry signed a protocol aimed to expand anti-terrorist cooperation (including information exchange, joint operations and technical assistance from China). Beijing expects that Minsk ensures safety of the industrial park "Great Stone" and other facilities within the framework of the Chinese initiative "One Belt, One Way", as well as related cargo traffic flows.
On July 7th, 2017, Lukashenka appointed Major-General Sergey Novikov as Deputy Chairman of the State Border Committee. Earlier Novikov headed the Department of Transport Support at the Belarusian Defence Ministry. He has no experience in border security.
On the same day, during a meeting with the leadership of the Security Council State Secretariat, Lukashenka pointed to the need to optimize the leadership of the power block and elaborate a new mechanism for coordination between the president and the State Secretariat and other power agencies. In addition, according to Lukashenka, power bodies’ frameworks should be defined this year: the staffing and funding policies for each body and in each field. Heads of department would redistribute physical and human resources within this framework based on current priorities and tasks.
For more than 20 years, Russia was a guarantor of internal stability and external security for Belarus. Obviously, the situation is changing and the Belarusian authorities are prompted to look for new pillars in the security field, both, inside and outside the country. In this regard, Lukashenka may find the military leadership most suitable due to its loyalty, discipline and the habit (at least in theory) to give more than receive. China is oriented towards pragmatic interests, not abstract values, which suits Minsk perfectly. The growth in the army's influence and the expansion of security cooperation with China are stable trends. However, they have their limits: Lukashenka would like to avoid dependence on both, internal and external forces.
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.