Belarusian opposition split by political emigrants
Sannikov’s team aims to create its own focal point in exile, which means they will not join the Vilnius memorandum of the Belarusian opposition. Very likely, this process will result in emergence of two competing centres of Belarusian opposition and will leave zero chances for a broad democratic coalition in the next 2-3 years.
Last week, a number of events were held in Warsaw with MEP Migalski’s support and with the participation of “European Belarus” campaign, headed by former presidential candidate Andrey Sannikov.
Sannikov’s team continues efforts to set up an emigration focal point. In particular, on November 16-17, with the support of MEP Migalski, a number of Warsaw-based Belarusian socio-political centres and Diaspora representatives organized meetings with Polish Sejm Deputies.
This is a natural process for Sannikov’s team, since European Belarus’ core members have already emigrated abroad and they need to create a structure out there ‘for themselves’. That is the reason why Sannikov, who was granted political asylum in Britain, had refused to support the initiative by 14 members of the Belarusian opposition, the so-called Vilnius memorandum “Measures to ensure Belarus’ independence”, which was presented on November 3rd under the auspices of Belarusian People’s Republic Rada. In the meanwhile, neither Sannikov, nor his colleagues have yet disclosed their future political strategy.
Objectively speaking, the European Belarus’ actions will result in emergence of at least two hubs of Belarusian opposition abroad: one in Warsaw (or London) and the other in Vilnius. It could also happen that the supporting offices of both hubs will be located in Warsaw. Sannikov’s team advantage is that they can organize relatively broad information campaigns, supported by influential English-speaking media, and Internet campaigns via Charter97.org website. In particular, on November 23rd, the Guardian published an interview with Sannikov, calling him the most prominent figure in the Belarusian opposition.
Following emigration of the most active members of European Belarus, Sannikov’s influence in Belarus is likely to continue to decline. Sannikov’s team lacks trust, which is proved by the fact that new immigrant centers are set up “from a scratch” without the participation of other influential politicians and in parallel with the coalition established in Vilnius. As for Sannkov’s electoral popularity, he does not stand out from all other ex-candidates who ever aimed for presidency in Belarus. Electoral popularity of all ex-candidates during the first year after the elections remained at the same level as during the election campaign, and two years after the elections was around 5% if actively mentioned in the media.
If the idea of new alternative focal points of the Belarusian opposition abroad is successful, then, objectively speaking, the chances for the Belarusian opposition to agree on a ‘single’ candidate for the 2015 presidential campaign reduce to zero. Simultaneously, increased competition between the focal points can result in competitive strategic action plans in the opposition. The latter, the most positive option, is unlikely: the opposition either follows previous strategies (Vilnius Memorandum) or simply has no public political strategy (Sannikov’s group).
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.