Belarus loses military independence to retain independent foreign policy
Belarus remains neutral as regards events in Ukraine and makes some concessions to the Kremlin. President Lukashenko gives way to pressure from Moscow and assumes increased Russian military presence in Belarus. At the same time, the authorities do not doubt the need to preserve Ukraine’s territorial integrity so as not to spoil relations with the West and the new Ukrainian leadership.
On March 13th, six Russian Su-27s and three military transport planes, including technical support staff from Russia’s Western Military district, landed in Bobruisk airfield in Belarus.
While taking part in the Security Council meeting on March 12th, which reported about the Armed Forces’ combat readiness, President Lukashenko offered Russia to deploy additional fighter jets to Belarus. He explained it by the NATO increasing its military presence at the Belarusian borders. The day before, President Lukashenko had a telephone conversation with President Putin. The next day, six Su-27 fighters and three military transport aircrafts landed in Bobruisk.
The pace at which Russian aircrafts were deployed to Bobruisk near the border with Ukraine (not Poland or Lithuania), implies there has been a preliminary agreement on the matter between Minsk and Moscow. Despite concessions to the Kremlin in the military sphere, President Lukashenko attempts to retain his positions in the public domain. Overly dependent on the Kremlin, Minsk cannot take an official stance on the crisis in Ukraine which would differ from Moscow’s.
Meanwhile, Belarus’ Foreign Ministry has repeatedly issued statements about the events in Ukraine which could irritate Moscow. Belarusian diplomats have reiterated Belarus’ commitment to preserving Ukraine’s territorial integrity. President Lukashenko confirmed that the Belarusian Foreign Ministry’s position had been coordinated, “this position has been consolidated, and this is a single stance. Moreover, the Foreign Minister had been instructed to convey our position to the international community and leaders of other states, which has been done. Today our position remains unchanged”. It is noteworthy that the state news agency BelTA has published an article ‘Whether Russians want war’, expressing strong opposition to Russia’s actions in Crimea.
In recent years, military cooperation between Belarus and Russia has increased considerably. Taking advantage of the weakening state and defence capabilities of Belarus, the Kremlin has increased its military presence there. Currently, Belarus hosts four Russian military facilities: military radar and missile detection systems in Gantsevichi, Russian Navy’s communication post in Vileika, and Russian fighter jets in Baranovichi and Bobruisk. Moreover, Minsk’s military dependence on the Kremlin has increased sharply. In late 2013, four Russian Su-27s were deployed in Baranovichi and in March 2014 – six Russian Su-27s and three military transport aircrafts in Bobruisk.
Belarus is gradually losing her sovereignty in the military sphere to Russia, despite President Lukashenko’s attempts to keep up his appearances as an independent figure. Nevertheless, Belarus will remain neutral over the crisis in Ukraine.
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.