New sentences for post-election protestors
On 26 May two former Presidential candidates N. Statkevich and D. Uss were handed the toughest sentences under Article 293 (“organization of mass disorder”): 6 and 5 1/2 years of medium security prison accordingly.
The other four participants of the 19 December demonstration in Minsk were sentenced to 2 - 5 years in prison of variable security level.
With the escalating crisis on the currency and consumer markets, these strict sentences imply that the authorities are taking a stand to oppose attempts to challenge the legitimacy of the regime. The sentences defy the international community as a demonstration of “power”.
The harsh sentence for N. Statkevich is obviously associated with his sharp remarks against President Lukashenko personally during the election campaign. The sentence to a counterpart of Statkevich, a businessman and former Deputy of Minsk City Council, Uss can be decoded as a signal to Belarusian businessmen to keep out of politics. Moreover, Uss’ election campaign focused on the electoral reform and increased transparency of the electoral process, i.e. issues of vital control by the Belarusian authorities.
A harsh sentence of 5 years of medium security prison was handed down to Alexander Klaskouski, a former police officer and son of a freelance journalist. This harsh punishment of an ordinary protester (former Presidential candidate A. Sannikov was also sentenced to 5 years of imprisonment for allegedly organizing “mass disorder”) is definitely related to the fact that Alexander Klaskouski had previously served in the MIA and participated in the demonstration on 19 December in police uniform. First of all, the authorities had to demonstrate that the Belarusian law enforcement agencies were not involved in oppositional politics in any way and, secondly, that disloyalty among MIA staff will be prosecuted severely.
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.