Belarusian president reiterates independence and sovereignty talks to relax tension in society
Amid lingering recession and falling living standards of the population, the Belarusian authorities focus on threats to Belarus' sovereignty and independence in order to defuse protest moods in society. The president’s statement is likely to weaken the opposition’s mobilisation efforts. The Belarusian authorities are likely to continue cautious and often inconsistent attempts to weld a nation by promoting Belarus’ independence and strengthening national identity.
Last week, President Lukashenka said that some attempted to question the sovereignty and independence of Belarus.
The president is attempting to ease protest moods in society, which are used by the opposition to mobilise those dissatisfied with the current government policies. Virtually all main opposition alliances, including the centre-right coalition, "Tell the Truth" and the Belarusian National Congress (BNC) said to attempt to engage those affected "by the decree on social parasitism", who make up a significant part of the population, in some kind of activity.
Official rhetoric about the threat to Belarus’ sovereignty aims to weaken supporters of street protests and determined opponents of the Belarusian authorities. Part of the opposition, led by former political prisoner Nikolai Statkevich seeks to use speculations about ‘Zapad-2017’, a joint Russo-Belarusian large-scale military exercise to mobilise its supporters within the framework of the BNC "regional military commissions". The arrest of Regnum [Russian news agency] authors, and restricted access to ‘Sputnik and Mayhem’, an odious web site, could also reduce the protest capacity.
Apparently, amid exhausted capacity of the ‘younger brother’ (‘younger sister’) strategy in relation to Russia, the Belarusian authorities started a careful revision of the Belarusian statehood ideological constructs. The authorities’ rhetoric started echoing the rhetoric of the national-democratic opposition as regards the Belarusian sate’s origins. For instance, the authorities plan to erect a memorial sign ‘Polotsk is the cradle of the Belarusian statehood’ in the Vitebsk region, one of the most Russified regions. That said, since the mid-2000s the Belarusian authorities regarded the Great Patriotic War and the election of the first president as major milestones in the Belarusian state formation.
The Belarusian authorities’ actions aimed to strengthen national identity remain cautious. For example, the Belarusian parliament and the government expressed scepticism concerning legislative changes envisaging the mandatory use of the Belarusian language along with Russian by manufacturers, despite strong pressure from civil society activists. Even such cautious steps caused biting attacks by the ‘Russian World’ supporters in Russia.
Overall, the Belarusian authorities seem ready to take over slogans and ideas from their opponents in order to strengthen the sovereignty and independence of Belarus and to weaken the opposition’s influence on the protest social groups.
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.