Minsk aspires to deepen political and economic cooperation with Kyiv
Official Minsk seeks closer political and economic cooperation with Kyiv, in particular, to promote Belarusian goods on the Ukrainian market and in the future on the European Union market. In exchange, Belarus offers Kyiv facilitation of access of Ukrainian products from the sanctions list on the Russian market. In addition, the Belarusian authorities plan to consolidate bilateral cooperation between Belarus and Ukraine in the military-industrial sphere. Finally, the Belarusian government hopes for Kyiv’s assistance in settling the Belarusian-European relations.
Last week, Belarusian Foreign Minister Vladimir Makey met with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.
Last week, Belarusian Foreign Minister Makey was on official visit to Ukraine, which was the longest in recent years and with a broad agenda. His visit was preceded by a meeting of the intergovernmental commission on trade and economic cooperation.
During the meeting with Ukrainian President Poroshenko, Belarusian Foreign Minister confirmed Belarus’ commitment to Ukraine’s territorial integrity within her internationally recognised borders. Belarusian diplomat assured Kyiv of Minsk’s readiness to assist in finding a peaceful solution to the situation in the Donbass region and of the absence of threats to Ukraine from Belarus. With this aim in view, Belarus would support the establishment of a technical OSCE office to facilitate the work of the Tripartite Liaison Group on the settlement of the situation in the Donbass.
In response, Belarus is counting on Kyiv’s support in improving relations with Western capitals. The Belarusian authorities believe that currently there are several ‘friendly’ politicians in the region, who could assist in developing Belarus’ relations with foreign partners. For instance, Foreign Minister Makey has met not only with Petro Poroshenko, but also with Head of Odessa Regional State Administration Mikhail Saakashvili, who is on good terms with President Lukashenka since his presidency in Georgia. Moreover, Minsk is counting on favourable attitude of President Dalia Grybauskaitė and President Andrzej Duda, who spoke about deeper integration within the Baltic-Black Sea region.
The Belarusian authorities are interested in Ukraine’s European integration. Official Minsk anticipates expanding bilateral economic cooperation in order to promote Belarusian products on the EU markets through joint ventures with Ukraine. In return, the Belarusian authorities are ready to facilitate penetration of Ukrainian goods from the Russian sanctions list to the Russian market. The two countries envisage to use the Hryvnia and Belarusian rouble for settlements and while forming authorized capital in joint ventures in Ukraine and Belarus.
In addition, Belarus helps to re-equip Ukrainian army with products of the Belarusian military-industrial complex (MZKT chassis and engines), repairs Ukrainian aircrafts (at plants in Orsha and Baranovichi), and looks forward to a long-term cooperation with the Ukrainian defence industry.
Since 2014, Belarusian specialists have conducted extensive consultations with their colleagues from the Ukrainian defence industry, firstly as agents for supplies to Russia, and later through the establishment of joint ventures. Amid Kremlin’s desire to have full control over cooperation with the Belarusian defence industry, Belarus seeks closer cooperation with Kyiv in order to have own armoured, missile and aircraft equipment. In addition, Belarusian defence enterprises in the field of optics have significantly increased their sales to Ukraine and aim to strengthen their positions on the global market through cooperation with Ukrainian companies.
Meanwhile, the Ukrainian authorities are rather cautious about Belarusians’ participation in volunteer corps on the Kyiv side, which may be due to their reluctance to overcomplicate relations with official Minsk. For instance, despite the fact that in late 2014 President Poroshenko granted Ukrainian citizenship to a Belarusian who participated in the ATO, currently, a conflict with Belarusians who have requested Ukrainian citizenship is brewing. The Ukrainian authorities demonstrate unwillingness to grant citizenship to Belarusians participating in the Ukrainian volunteer battalions.
Overall, while Belarus formally remains the Kremlin’s ally, she continues strengthening trade, economic, political and military cooperation with Kiev and often makes contradictory statements about the conflict in Ukraine in order to reduce the pressure from the Russian government.
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.