Political situation: the most notable trends in 2014
In 2014, the most notable trends in 2014 in Belarusian politics were:
- Electoral support for President Lukashenko rose amid a fall in real incomes and a high level of demand for change within Belarusian society persisted;
- Belarusian society were deeply divided over the events in Ukraine and attitudes among supporters and opponents of the incumbent president were polarised;
- The government paid more attention to public safety, for example, by strengthening the roles of law enforcement agencies and intelligence services in public administration;
- The authorities tentatively distanced themselves from the “Russian World” and initiated nation-building, inter alia, by incorporating some values of their opponents in the state paradigm;
- Minsk grew in importance through its attempts to ensure regional security and to preserve a balanced position in the Russo-Ukrainian confrontation;
- Contacts with Western capitals were more frequent as Belarus sought to normalise relations on her own terms;
- Belarus became more engaged in Eurasian integration and more dependent on the Kremlin.
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.