The case of Lida-based Poles’ House updated
On February 20th, Bealrus’ Investigative Committee reported that in 2011 there was an attempt to blow up the building of the Poles’ House in Lida. Criminal investigation has been launched into the matter.
Belarusian authorities have reserved an additional communication channel with Poland – on the special services’ level. Depending on the foreign policy developments, the criminal case regarding the explosion near the Poles’ House may be used by the authorities either as destructive or constructive tool in negotiations with the West.
Unexpected statement by the Investigative Committee that in December 2011 there was an attempt to blow up the Poles’ House building in Lida could be explained by the following factors.
Firstly, this news refreshes Belarusian-Polish relations through recalling the two Poles’ Unions operating in Belarus after the split in the leadership in 2005. The conflict between the Poles’ Unions left the most important economic issues unresolved, namely, who owns the 16 Poles’ Houses in Belarus.
Secondly, the authorities are likely to use this dispute as an entry point in the broader conflict – the relations between Belarus and Poland and the EU. These relations depend on Russo-Belarusian relations and can be both, destructive and more constructive. In particular, during the meeting with the KGB heads, President Lukashenko expressed interest in a constructive dialogue with the West.
Highly likely, the criminal investigation into the blast near the Poles’ House will follow the destructive policy line in the Polish-Belarusian bilateral relations. The case envisages charges of “illegal actions with firearms, ammunition and explosives” (part 2 article 295 of the Criminal Code), and the Investigative Committee officials particularly emphasized there were no grounds for legal actions on “terrorism” charges. Noteworthy, the information about the criminal case was originally published in the “Ezhednevnik”, an online publication known for its close ties with Belarus’ security agencies. The information was later circulated by the main independent news agencies however the state media ignored this news entirely.
Finally, it should be noted that the statement was made right after the Polish Foreign Ministry published its statistics about the number of issued “Pole’s Cards”. On February 19th, Chairman of the non-registered Belarusian Union of Poles Mr. Jaskiewicz said in an interview with the “Radio Liberty’s” Belarusian service that Belarusian officials, despite the legal ban, continued applying for the “Pole’s Card”, and that the Union helped them in confidence. Bearing this in mind, the report by the Investigative Committee could be regarded as a warning to all involved.
Nevertheless, in the context of developments in the multilateral relations between Belarus and the EU, the criminal case could mean that Minsk generally aimed to resume dialogue with the West, and was collecting “weighty” arguments to strengthen their negotiating position.
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.