Lukashenko attempts to overcome international isolation via media
On January 15, President Lukashenko held a press conference for Belarusian and international mass media. The press conference lasted for almost 5 hours, was attended by over 350 journalists representing 285 media.
The main reason for the frequent meetings of Alexander Lukashenko with journalists in the last six months is the Belarusian President’s international isolation. Ad hoc interviews and press conferences partially fill in the vacuum in the absence of real international political activity.
The large number of international journalists taking part in the January press conference, emphasize the trend, which started in early 2011: during his 4th term, President Lukashenko is increasingly focusing on the Eurasian integration, and makes most of his foreign visits to Moscow. As a result, the authorities are trying to compensate for the “Kremlin misbalance” using information policy tools.
President Lukashenko’s public activity has increased since autumn 2012, for example, in October, he gave an interview to MIR TV and Radio Channel (CIS), the Independent and BBC (UK), he also called a traditional press conference for journalists from Russian regional media. In November and December he was interviewed by Reuters (UK) and met with members of the CIS media Editors Club. All these events took place in Minsk.
Content-wise the press conference on January 15 was of a routine and populist nature as usual. The President indicated there will be no major changes in the foreign policy of Belarus. In particular, he made it clear he was not going to release political prisoners without them asking for pardon. Thus, it is anticipated that in the near future the political conflict between Belarus and the EU and the U.S. will remain frozen.
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.