Belarusian authorities tighten political activity rules before the election
On May 8, U.S. Ambassador to OSCE Mr. Kelly expressed serious concern over the increased number of arrests in Belarus. Earlier Belarusian human rights activists appealed to the UN to urgently respond to an unprecedented wave of arbitrary arrests in Belarus. Since the beginning of June about 40 people were detained in Belarus on various grounds.
Such a harsh reaction of the authorities on the eve of not yet officially announced parliamentary campaign aims to tighten the rules of conduct in public places for the opposition. Most likely, the government pursues two goals. Firstly, street arrests meant to suppress a potential renewal of social networks protests, which were actively used by “Social Networks Revolution” opposition youth movement in the summer of 2011 and demonstrated inability of the city police to react adequately.
Secondly, it is likely that numerous and seemingly uncoordinated detentions of civil and political activists, journalists and academic community representatives have a common base. The majority of the Belarusian opposition already denies the democratic nature of the upcoming parliamentary elections and is preparing to boycott in various forms. The authorities in their turn also demonstrate that they will use any opportunity to prevent such actions.
The probable logic of the Belarusian law enforcement agencies is that in response to the boycott of the parliamentary elections by the opposition, the government will boycott the opposition, i.e. will put it in a very narrow legal framework for mass street actions. Earlier, the Belarusian parliament has prudently amended relevant laws with tougher measures.
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.