Belarusian President did not succeed in gaining total control over elite leisure activities
On April 19, President Lukashenko held a meeting on hunting and fishing development, and demanded to improve control at the Belarusian Hunters and Fishermen Society.
Presidential efforts to control forest network in Belarus imply that Belarusian leader is concerned about the opportunities such facilities provide for informal communication inside elite. Hunting and fishing is a little advertised, but important part of life in the Belarusian elite.
For instance, a controversial investigation into illegal hunting in one of forests in the Gomel region in 2009 revealed that then-Defense Minister Yuri Zhadobin, as well as high ranking officials from the KGB and Interior Ministry could be involved in it. Today President Lukashenko is not so much concerned about the illegal hunting.
More importantly, he sends the elite a signal about their leisure and informal contacts being controlled at the highest level.
That is why in 2010 President Lukashenko personally supervised the reform of the Belarusian Hunters and Fishermen Society and in 2012 tried to initiate the creation of a special body to exercise state management in hunting and fishing (during a meeting on 19 April).
However, President’s initiative caused elite’s reaction. Deputy Prime Minister Rumas, who chaired the working group on this issue, reported that the establishment of a single supervisory authority was impractical, and the President was forced to agree.
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.