Bialiatski case "sentenced" multilateral foreign policy of Belarus
Belarus freezes its Western foreign policy direction. At the same time, the harsh verdict to Bialiatski implies an acute shortage of political strategies at the Presidential Administration.
On 24 November Vice President of International Federation of Human Rights and the Head of non-registered in Belarus Human Rights Center “Viasna” [Spring] A. Bialiatski was sentenced over large-scale tax evasion to 4.5 years of imprisonment in a medium security institution with confiscation of property.
The sentence to Human Rights Defender Bialiatski proves the authorities’ intention to resume a large-scale campaign aimed to clean up the alternative political and social organizations, which started after the presidential elections of December 19, 2010 in Belarus. The acute phase of the financial crisis in Belarus between March and October 2011 was the main argument infavour of the political liberalization and cooperation with foreign financial institutions (with the IMF in particular). Financial assistance from these institutions was preconditioned by the release of all political prisoners, including Bialiatski.
Regardless of a number of signals President Lukashenko sent last summer and in early autumn to the EU and the USA about his willingness to fulfill their political demands, he nevertheless decided to choose the opposite direction. The choice of the President was made for the favorable conditions of economic cooperation with Russia within the framework of the Common Economic Space and the future Eurasian Economic Union, also for the sale of shares of Beltransgaz for USD2.5 billion, as well as for a substantial gas price discount. All these decisions have been made either before or immediately after the human rights defender was sentenced (on 18 and 25 November respectively).
Regardless of a number of signals President Lukashenko sent last summer and in early autumn to the EU and the USA about his willingness to fulfill their political demands, he nevertheless decided to choose the opposite direction.
The aforementioned agreements provide Belarus with the opportunity to postpone the solution of its most pressing economic challenges. Bialiatski’s sentence also implies that the resumption of a political dialogue between Belarus and the West has been postponed indefinitely. We predict that as a consequence, rehabilitation and release of other political prisoners will be delayed too.
A particular emphasis should be added to the fact that this sentence was not a forced decision – it was an exclusive initiative of the authorities. Minsk brought Kremlin a symbolic “sacrifice” in the form of a sentence to Bialiatski, however it became a burden for Russia, while Minsk gained no benefits. During 2011 the Kremlin has repeatedly declared at the highest level that Belarus must respect international standards in human rights and democracy.
Therefore, the sentence pronounced for Bialiatski implies there is an acute shortage of strategic policy planning in the President Lukashenko’s surrounding and that his office is incapable of a multilateral foreign policy. No one benefits from the appearance of another political prisoner, neither Minsk, nor Moscow; moreover, it results in even greater dependence of the domestic and foreign policy of Belarus on the decisions made in the Kremlin.
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.