Opposition supports authorities in Russian air base deployment issue
On July 15th, the Belarusian Popular Front party has applied to the Minsk City Executive Committee to hold a picket against the Russian air base deployment in Belarus.
The opposition’s protest against Russian air base is in line with the country leadership’s position, - the latter needs a lever to put pressure on the Kremlin. The chosen protest form is safe for both, the opposition and the authorities.
The situation around the Russian air base deployment is characterized by the fact that Russia is the only news-maker about the issue and seems to act autonomously. In particular, the latest information - about choosing Lida airport as the most desired location for the air base – was disseminated by Russian Air Force Commander Viktor Bondarev.
Simultaneously, Belarus officials remain silent: the most recent official statement was made by Lukashenko, who said back in April 2013 that the talks were about aircraft supplies for the Belarusian Army needs, not about the air base deployment.
Chances are high that bilateral negotiations about the issue will be dragged on, while the ruling group seeks support from the outside. Therefore, the authorities’ and the Belarusian opposition nationalist wing’s positions objectively coincide. In particular, the BPF is known for its anti-Russian platform.
In this regard, it is noteworthy that the BPF proposes to hold a picket in the front of the Russian Embassy and not in the front of a Belarusian governmental building (eg, Presidential Administration or Defense Ministry). It is also essential that the BPF waited for nearly three-month to break out with its picket initiative (the ‘plans’ were announced in April).
Very likely, the government will reject BPF’s picket initiative, since it is not interested in the street protests’ revitalization in the capital and even more so – in front of the Russian Embassy. In turn, the three-month pause sustained by the opposition implies that they are not ready to initiate protest actions independently with a few exceptions.
For instance, on July 4th, a new member of the United Civil Party Nikolai Gladyshev held a single-person 1.5-hour picket in Mogilev against the Russian air base deployment, which resulted in his detention by the police. The UCP Mogilev Branch Office head said, that the picket was Gladyshev’s ‘own initiative’ and was not coordinated with the party HQs.
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.