Friedrich Ebert Foundation forced to leave Belarus
Belarusian authorities refused to continue cooperation with a well-known global non-governmental organization from Germany. After the 2010 presidential election, the authorities deliberately narrow the range of alternative organizations inside the country that work closely with Western partners.
In December the Foreign Ministry of Belarus refused to renew the accreditation of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Belarus “because the foundation’s activities did not fully meet the criteria for constructive cooperation with governmental agencies of Belarus”. In 2012 Minsk office of the Fund will cease its operation.
There is a reason to believe that such a move by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was a reaction to the resolution of the Conference of the OSCE Civil Society in Vilnius on December 6. The resolution calls upon the international community to cease all cooperation with the Belarusian authorities that provides for financial assistance to them. FES in Minsk was an active mediator between the government and non-governmental organizations of Belarus therefore Foreign Ministry’s decision meant to demonstrate to the international community their readiness to purge the entire field of active NGOs in Belarus.
In the broader context the non-renewal of the accreditation of the representation of FES is a logical continuation of the policy of freezing of relations between Belarus and its Western partners, which were the most active partners in the program of liberalization of Belarus in 2008-2010, and in particular, during the campaign of legitimation of the 4th term of President Lukashenko in autumn 2010.
In particular it concerned Poland and Germany, as their foreign ministers visited Minsk in November 2010. It is obvious, the suspension of the lease agreement for the Polish Embassy premises building in 2012 and the non-renewal of the accreditation of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation for 2012 are links in one chain.
By restricting cooperation, Belarus narrows the range of non-governmental organizations that receive support from the West considered by the Belarusian authorities as agents of influence. In turn, the scope of international organizations which have the ability to directly influence the situation in Belarus is restricted simultaneously. Finally, the authorities start implementing the new legislation, which significantly tightens the rules of the game for theBelarusian civil society organizations with foreign funding.
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.