Belarusian political circles’ reaction to the ‘potash case’
Some political organizations and politicians have made statements about the criminal case against the Uralkali and BPC leaders.
Some opposition groups and politicians have used the Russo-Belarusian ‘potash conflict’ as an excuse to address their target audiences. All statements were made ad hoc and did not exploit the potential of political coalitions. Pro-government political and social organizations were silent, implying that the ruling group was not ready to ‘politicize’ the conflict.
On August 27th, Vice-President of Belarus’ Liberal Democratic Party Oleg Gaydukevich said that Belarus’ actions were not political by nature and that the Investigation Committee of Belarus was responding adequately to the situation. This statement was addressed to representatives of Belarus’ security services, to which Oleg Gaydukevich belonged until autumn 2012 (he headed the Frunze District Police Department in Minsk). We also note that the President of the Liberal Democrat Party, Colonel Sergei Gaydukevich, and father of Oleg Gaydukevich, comes from a military background. The party’s support of the authorities’ actions regarding the ‘potash case’ was therefore fairly predictable.
On August 30th, “For Freedom” Movement issued a statement addressing its primary target audience, the so-called “discontented majority”. In the statement, “For Freedom” argues that the potash conflict and the arrest of a Russian citizen is a natural outcome of Russia’s long-term support of illegal political governance and economic management practices in Belarus, and its non-transparent approach to business management. The Movement called upon pro-active citizens to take part in the “National Referendum” project which aims to democratize governance in Belarus.
United Civil Party Chairman Anatoly Lebedko said that the conflict was an ‘image’ matter for the Kremlin and would continue to escalate until parties finally reconciled.
Pro-government parties and public associations refrained from commenting. Except some negative statements by MPs, the conflict was overlooked by Belarusian pro-governmental politicians and organizations. This implies that the ruling group is not ready to regard the ‘potash case’ as a full-scale ‘conflict’. However the authorities are using state propaganda mechanisms (public electronic media and loyal experts) to win sympathy in Belarusian and Russian societies.
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.