“Sannikau factor” reduces probability of election boycott
The news about potential pardon of Sannikau strengthens positions of the opponents of the boycott of the parliamentary elections and gives the opposition involved in negations a reason to postpone the adoption of a unanimous decision about the format of the election campaign. De facto it implies there will be no joint boycott of the 2012 elections.
Taking into account President’s Lukashenko readiness to pardon prisoners if they appeal for clemency, which he repeatedly voiced, increases chances of Sannikau’s release. On 23 January expired the one-month-review period and the appeal was submitted to the Presidential Administration. Indeed, Lukashenko knew about Sannikau’s appeal all along and his demonstrative adherence to formalities while considering his appeal implies only his personal dislike of Sannikau. It also explains the delayed review of the petition within the Administration, moreover, last week President Lukashenko was on a working visit and a vacation in Sochi.
The release of Sannikau will have a dual impact on the negotiations about the format of the opposition’s participation in the parliamentary elections in September.
On the one hand, supporters of explicit boycott of the election campaign may use the release of Sannikau as a factor reinforcing their position, namely, that the authorities are fearful of the boycott and therefore have already made concessions ergo they will continue insisting on boycotting. On the other hand, supporters of participation in the elections will argue that following the release of Sannikau other political prisoners could be released before the autumn.
However, it implies that negotiations within the opposition will continue. In fact, the opposition will refuse to take a principled decision regarding “the boycott or participation” and in reality the choice will be made in favourof participation and against the boycott. On 23 January a number of opposition organizations failed to sign an agreement on the format of the election campaign, regardless of their previous statements about working on such document.
The delay of the principled and joint decision on the format of participation in the parliamentary campaign by the opposition confirms our previous assessment: the majority of the opposition will take part in the elections and will hush up the issue of explicit boycott. The meeting of the so-called “Coalition of the Six” on 23 January was not attended by four heads of the political parties and movements (2 were on business trips abroad, 2 were ill.)
The release of Sannikau, if it takes place, will provide the leadership of the opposition with yet another reason to postpone the adoption of the final decision. For instance, one of the negotiators (Deputy Chairman of the United Civil Party Mr. Lev Margolin) said on January 23 that in the following two months the coalition intended to organize a broad public debate with participation of experts regarding the format of the opposition’s involvement in the elections. He also said that the boycott would not in principle prevent the opposition from the nomination of candidates.
To date, the following (not-registered) organizations have explicitly supported the idea of the boycott: the Organizing Committee of the People’s Assembly, the “Belaruski Rukh” Movement and the Belarusian Christian Democracy. Only one party, Fair World of the “Coalition of the Six” stands for participation in the elections. The remaining organizations have not yet made up their minds and continue consultations.
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.