Crisis of President Lukashenko’s legitimacy put on hold
On 27 May President Lukashenko held a meeting to discuss the current situation on the consumer and foreign exchange markets. The meeting was attended by the top officials of the country: representatives of the Government, the National Bank, the Presidential Administration, the management of the largest state-owned banks.
The Belarusian political elite are waiting for the President’s actions to overcome the financial crisis.
President Lukashenko senses that his domestic legitimacy is in danger and has to react within the frameworks of the failed talks with Russian leaders on 19 May and Kazakhstan on 24-26 May. The absence of positive information regarding the outcomes of these negotiations, indeed, reduces the credibility of the Head of State. Moreover, a number of statements made last week by Russian Prime Minister Putin and Finance Minister Kudrin concerning the conditions of issuing a stabilization loan to Belarus present the situation as if Russia is dictating to the Belarusian leadership what to do to obtain the credit and to overcome the crisis.
Following these media reports, Lukashenko had to justify himself vis-?-vis his subordinates and to convince them that he still controlled the economic situation and protected the interests of the Belarusian management. During the meeting the Belarusian President has repeatedly said that Belarus would not start the “collapsing” sale of assets.
The meeting was the first public statement by Lukashenko after the Summit held in Minsk on 19 May. Its emotional intensity proves the political stakes are high, at least until the next meeting of the Board of the Anti-Crisis Fund of the Eurasian Economic Community on 4 June, meant to decide on the allocation of the first transfer for Belarus. It is fairly safe to assume that the Belarusian elite will continue keeping the pause until that date.
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.