Belarusian authorities count on opposition to exhaust its resources and abandon unauthorized activity
The Belarusian authorities have fine-tuned their measures to curb street activity of the opposition and the independent media by using softer mechanisms, such as non-registration of initiatives, fines, warnings, deprivation of the right to organize public events, etc. The authorities expect that ‘relaxed’ repressions, while being efficient, would not cause a sharp criticism by Western capitals. The authorities are likely to apply sufficient measures to contain protest activity, which will work just like harsh repressions.
The Freedom Day march organisers believe that the government’s decision to change the format of the march is a provocation.
In the wake of liberalization, some opposition initiatives aspired to obtain state registration. In recent years, the authorities have not prosecuted unregistered organizations, however issued warnings to the most active opposition activists. Registration of such initiatives would have significantly increased their attractiveness for new activists.
For instance, in recent months, the following initiatives have applied for official registration: the BCD, "Tell the Truth" campaign, Uladzimir Nyaklyaeu’s movement "For Statehood and Independence!" and others. However, the authorities have denied registration to virtually all opposition initiatives, quoting insignificant grounds.
Meanwhile, the authorities do not prevent unauthorized opposition rallies and do not detain their participants and organizers. The law enforcement only draws up reports on the spot or in absentia on the most active oppositionists.
Such a change in the approaches of the power structures to curb street activity has led to some curious cases. For instance, during a trial, three law enforcement officers testified against methodologist Matskevich as if he was participating in one of the unauthorized actions. However, Matskevich provided plane tickets to proof his absence in the country on the day of the opposition action and showed a stamp in his passport from Polish border control. Interestingly, instead of closing the case and bring to justice perjure police officers, the judge sent police documents "for completion".
Simultaneously, the authorities denied the organizers or participants of unsanctioned actions the right to organize sanctioned events. For instance, they crossed out four party leaders from the list of organisers of the traditional opposition march on the Freedom Day on the grounds, that during the year they have participated in unsanctioned rallies.
With regard to the independent media, the authorities apply two strategies - financial prosecution of journalists and preventive measures vis-a-vis publications. For instance, the Information Ministry issued warnings to the owners of two independent newspapers - "Nasha Niva" and "Ezhednevnik" - for discrediting the state demographic policy and the armed forces. Most likely, the authorities do not intend to close the newspapers, but hope for preventive effects, such as enhanced self-censorship. That said, in order to close the publication, the authorities only have to issue two warnings in one year.
In addition, the law enforcement agencies have replaced harsh repressions against unaccredited media with financial persecution. Some journalists already have large fines pending for their activities. For example, Gomel journalist Zhukovsky has accumulated USD 2200 worth of fines in this year alone.
Overall, in the medium term, the authorities expect the opposition to abandon unauthorized activities, and non-accredited journalists to stop working due to exhausted financial resources. If protest movement grows, the authorities may resume their usual harsh repressions against the opposition and the independent media.
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.