Official Minsk interested in Ukraine successfully holding early presidential elections
The Belarusian authorities are supportive of the Ukrainian authorities’ decision to hold early presidential elections on May 25th this year and to stabilize the situation in Ukraine’s southeast. Belarus will send her monitors to observe the vote in Ukraine, which, in her view, might ensure Kiev authorities’ loyalty and might improve her relations with the West. However, the recognition by Belarus of the presidential election results will depend on Russia’s stance and developments in the southeast of Ukraine.
The Belarus’ Central Election Committee has received an invitation to observe the presidential elections in Ukraine.
Belarus has supported the Kiev authorities’ decision to hold the presidential elections on May 25th this year, underscoring that it is “the inherent sovereign right of the Ukrainian people”.
The Belarusian authorities plan to send their observers to the upcoming elections in Ukraine “as the national delegation and within the framework of election observation missions by regional organisations". Belarus’ Foreign Ministry Spokesman Mironchik emphasised that “Ukraine desperately needs a stable government whose legitimacy will be based on the outcome of free elections.”
The Belarusian authorities are interested in the prompt conflict resolution in Ukraine, since it has already started having a negative impact on the Belarus’ economy and has increased Belarus’ risks amid unpredictable foreign policy of the Kremlin.
The protracted conflict in Ukraine has negative consequences for the Belarusian-Ukrainian trade and economic relations. For example, in January-March 2014, trade between the two countries fell by almost 15%, Belarusian exports fell by 7% and imports – by 30%. Ukraine is Belarus’ the second largest trade partner in terms of turnover, and in terms of significant trade surplus.
The Russo-Ukrainian conflict has increased Belarus’ dependence on the Kremlin’s policy. Unlike in previous years, Belarus’ investment costs in the ‘Eurasian integration’ have increased considerably compared with the received benefits. Besides, Russia’s resources have also been dwindling after her invasion of Ukraine and she has fewer means to buy the loyalty of the neighbouring states, including Belarus.
It should be noted, that the Belarus’ president attempted to disavow the statements he made after the meeting in Moscow, which were closely repeating the Russian propaganda as regards events in Ukraine’s southeastern regions. At a meeting with the Ukrainian Ambassador Mykhailo Yezhel on May15th, President Lukashenko reiterated that his previous statements concerning Ukraine’s territorial integrity, undesirability of her federalisation and recognition of the authorities in Kiev remained unchanged: “Ukraine has to remain a united state. Her 45 million population is our brotherly nation”.
Having Belarus’ official observers at the presidential elections in Ukraine implies that the authorities in Minsk may count on the loyalty of the new authorities in Kiev, which will be particularly important when the presidential campaign kicks off in Belarus in 2015. In addition, the Belarusian authorities aspire that related viewpoints with the European Union might improve contacts with Brussels without additional conditions.
Depending on the Moscow’s stance and peculiarities of the vote in the southeastern Ukraine, the authorities in Minsk may recognize the elections’ outcomes however with certain reservations. Meanwhile, regardless of what they say, the Belarusian leadership is interested in developing the Belarusian-Ukrainian economic relations.
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.