Alexander Lukashenko delivered State of the Nation Address to the Belarusian people and the National Assembly.
On 8 May Alexander Lukashenko delivered his annual address at the National Assembly.
There was an intrigue over the address as it had been unexpectedly postponed. In such a situation, the most unpredictable sensations could have been expected. However, Lukashenko’s performance did not bring anything sensational. On the contrary, it was one of the least colourless and seemingly meaningless annual addresses ever. The lack of clear vision (namely, in terms of geopolitical choice) could be regarded as a key message of Alexander Lukashenko. By doing so, he makes it clear to the outside world, and to Europe in particular, that he is ready to begin a dialogue with the West \"from scratch\". The President declared his willingness to resume the dialogue with the European Union, which is viewed as an important partner and political vector. At the same time, he attempted to avoid using his traditional offensive clichés to the West.
He once again outlined the list of issues which he is ready to discuss and make concessions on, such as the possible amnesty of the political prisoners on the Independence Day, a moratorium on the death penalty, the preparation and holding of the election campaign, the security of the western border.It should be pointed out that Alexander Lukashenko behaves very cautiously while touching upon these issues. He did not make any special commitments or obligations, he just outlined the range of issues and made it clear that there might be a significant progress in dealing with them. This was most obvious when he spoke the moratorium on capital punishment. On the one hand, he defended this practice, but on the other hand, he ended his statement with the words: “Maybe our society is ready to introduce a moratorium or ban capital punishment. Then we will make the decision together”.
While speaking about Russia, he avoided any evaluation, although the context of his address demonstrated that the Eastern vector and Eastern integration are not top priorities for Belarus.
He stressed out a deep interest in cooperation with China and the developing countries.
In terms of internal policy, Lukashenko made it clear that there would be no radical reform of the current social model. Welfare state is a fundamental value for him. However, he admitted that the existing model had outlived itself and needed transformation. He spoke a lot about modernization (“A new age needs a new economy”). However, he did not offer a clear vision of the modernization. The President restricted his speech to stating general principles, such as innovation, investment, etc.
Lukashenko also very carefully touched upon the issue of privatisation. In general, he did not object to privatisation, although he brought about too many “buts”. It is evident that he personally does not have a clear outlook on this issue. The most worrying statement was his promise to increase average salaries to $500 by the year-end. According to the experts, such a decision may trigger new crisis phenomena in the Belarusian economy.
On the eve of his address to the parliament, Alexander Lukashenko issued Decree № 6 \"On the stimulation of entrepreneurial activities in the medium and small towns and rural areas\" which was positively estimated even by the opposition-minded experts. This decree shows that the President is willing to make steps to liberalize the economy.
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.