Authorities’ symmetrical response to the opposition
Yermoshina proposed introducing a law against campaigning for an elections boycott in response to calls by some opposition parties to boycott the elections. The authorities seek to preserve their position as both a player and the referee in the election campaigns.
On September 13th Chairman of the Central Elections Committee Yermoshina proposed to introduce a law that bans campaigning for an elections boycott.
Yermoshina’s initiative to ban campaigning for a boycott by law is an extension of semi-formal measures against the boycott supporters. Previously, the Media Supervisory Board for the election campaign under the Central Election Committee recommended not broadcasting speeches of candidates who called for a boycott, and the Central Election Committee, in turn, upheld the recommendation.
Despite the legal dubiousness of this proposal (lawyers say it would be in violation of the Belarusian Electoral Code), the authorities are not interested in having such a ‘vulnerability’ in the electoral law. It is therefore likely that Yermoshina’s proposal will be supported in the Presidential Administration and Deputies at a later stage and the ban on campaigning for the boycott will be formalized as the Electoral Code amendment.
The Central Elections Committee is responding to the attempts of some opposition parties to boycott the campaign. In particular, at the end of the week it was reported that the Belarusian Popular Front and the United Civic Party would withdraw their candidates, previously registered by the CEC, before the vote (i.e. before September 18th, when early voting begins.) The authorities are not only trying to save face, but also to tighten the rules of the election campaigns for political forces. If successful, the room for independent and non-actions of the opposition, such as the boycott, will be even more limited.
Finally, Yermoshina’s initiative also envisages significant restrictions on the election media campaign. In particular, it is proposed to limit the number of individual performances by candidates, as they look too “static” and are costly for media budgets, and to introduce more interactive forms: talk shows, debates, etc. In reality, this will lead to an overall reduction of opportunities for candidates to have individual performances in the electronic media, and will increase collective participation.
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.