Security: Minsk aims to steer clear of new commitments to Moscow
Last week, a trend has developed, which manifested in Minsk’s desire to preserve close cooperation with Russia in the security field and to demonstrate allegiance to Moscow through participation in symbolic events.
In the current confrontation between the West and Ukraine on one side and Russia on the other side, the latter seeks to demonstrate that she is not isolated and has a wide range of friends and allies through organising symbolic international events. For instance, last week, Russia held three such events: the Second Military Sports Games of the friendly armies of the CIS member states, the International Army Games-2017 and the Commonwealth Warrior competition among the CIS states, held within the Army Games. The Belarusian military took an active part in the events. The Belarusian team ranked third in the military sports games, and for the second time in eight years won the right to hold the Commonwealth Warrior competition. In addition, Alexander Lukashenka greeted the participants of the Army Games on a par with Vladimir Putin.
Belarus’ participation in such Russian image-making events aims to demonstrate her readiness to cooperate with the Kremlin on security issues and to relax tension in bilateral political relations. Moreover, Minsk thereby has partially ‘compensated’ for its reluctance to side with Russia in the confrontation with the West and for developing Sino-Belarusian cooperation. That said, China is regarded by Moscow as a rival for influence in the post-Soviet space.
Conventionally, Russia is extremely sensitive to both, security issues and her image as an influential global player. Hence, Minsk is likely to retain high interest in preserving close cooperation in the security field with Russia and would publicly demonstrate its loyalty to Moscow. That said, Belarus would attempt to steer clear of assuming additional commitments to the Kremlin in this field. Such a trend has long been a corner stone in the Belarusian security policy. Hence, this is a stable trend which is likely to persist in future.
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.