Belarusian authorities get a summer break
On June 7th, Russian Ambassador to Belarus Alexander Surikov held a press conference in Minsk.
Ambassador Surikov’s statement will be used as an excuse by the Belarusian authorities to delay the implementation of a new bilateral agreement on privatization. The probability that the oil supply agreement for Q3 will be signed is high, although Belarus is unlikely to get a loan from Russia, because it would be tied to implementation of joint projects.
Ambassador Surikov’s appearance is linked to the activation of the Russo-Belarusian relations and integration processes in the post-Soviet space in the frameworks of the CIS, Collective Security Treaty Organization and the CES in late May - early June. Ambassador’s press conference meant to draw attention to the Kremlin’s priorities in bilateral projects on industrial, financial, and military cooperation with Belarus, as well as to re-define Russia’s requirements.
In particular, Surikov said that in the autumn Belarus and Russia were anticipated to sign agreements to establish a joint holding company, merging MAZ and KamAZ motor works. In addition, Ambassador said that Russia was ready to give a loan to Belarus for enterprises’ modernization only if joint projects were launched. Finally, Surikov reiterated Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu statement about the imminent establishment of Russian military compound in Belarus.
Regarding oil supply to Belarus, Ambassador said that Russia will take Belarus’ wishes into account. This implies that Belarus may count on a quarterly or semi-annual agreement for 23 million tons per year. The agreement should be signed by mid-June 2013. Previous agreements in 2013 were signed quarterly.
Thus, highly likely, the oil supply agreement with Belarus will be signed, and Belarus will be granted a delay at least until autumn regarding its commitment to privatize state property. Surikov’s statements will be used by Belarusian negotiators as additional arguments to justify their position.
Noteworthy, Ambassador Surikov’s views are not always in agreement with the Kremlin. Nevertheless, the moderate nature of Ambassador’s statements, as well as the context of recent integration-related events suggests that Belarus has managed to drag the Kremlin in another negotiation round. Most likely, Belarus is using the deployment of Russian military air base and the customs tariffs’ harmonization terms within the CES as negotiations arguments.
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.