Informational mobilization creates no grounds for street protest
Last week Belarusian cities saw violence in public places and villages continue fighting against local epidemic of African swine flu.
The risks to public safety and citizens’ welfare remain high in Belarus. However, there are no grounds to anticipate wider mobilization of the population. There are no sufficient grounds for political mobilization.
Despite the ‘dead’ summer season, Belarus’ information space remains highly active four years in a row. Since the 2010 presidential campaign, summer season informational agenda is extremely rich: the financial crisis in 2011 and parliamentary elections in 2012. This summer’s breaking news relate to public safety issues and rural residents’ well-being and come from all over the country.
On June 22nd, people waiting at a bus-stop were shot at from a car in Minsk. On June 23rd, in Pinsk a man seriously wounded two local residents from a shotgun hunting rifle. On June 24th, a man was beaten up and shot from an air pistol in Minsk at a bus stop by three attackers. The Interior Ministry said that one of the suspects was a football fan and also made public that it collects football fans’ personal passport data and videotapes them.
Finally, the measures against African swine flu (the authorities seize and destroy livestock) were not effective and spread beyond Grodno region, reaching Stolbtsy district, Minsk region. In villages the situation is tense: villagers are prepared to slaughter their livestock to avoid seizures. On June 25th, authorities imposed a monetary compensation for the seizure of healthy animals.
However, the society’s mobilization should not be anticipated. Low social mobilization is due, primarily, to summer and holiday season: people leave cities on weekends and plan short-term travel abroad. In particular, in 2012 the number of Belarusian tourists who traveled abroad reached a record high for the last 5 years (492.8 thousand people against 319.8 thousand in 2011).
In addition, seasonal migration factor is affecting the mobilization: available direct and indirect evidence suggests that labor migration from Belarus to Russia is unabated. Therefore, it is unlikely that the increased security risks will trigger any mass demonstrations or protests.
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.