Single candidate from democratic forces unlikely to be nominated before year-end
Influenced by events in Ukraine, and with Belarus facing the threat of losing independence in the process of Eurasian integration, the Belarusian opposition has stepped up talks about nominating a single opposition candidate. However, the opposition parties and movements do not have a common vision or strategy for winning the elections in Belarus, which bars them from uniting around a strong opposition leader. As the ‘Ukrainian factor’ wears thin and Election Day draws nearer, contradictions and competition among the opposition structures around ‘a single opposition candidate’ will strengthen.
On May 19th, Belarus’ opposition leaders held regular consultations concerning the election of a single opposition candidate for the 2015 presidential elections.
Most opposition structures reached an agreement that a single candidate would be nominated and elected by the Congress of Democratic Forces. They are still to determine the Congress’ date. The presidential elections in Belarus should be held no later than November 20th, 2015. Meanwhile, the opposition leaders failed to agree on how to nominate Congress’ participants, who would actually vote for a single opposition candidate. Each opposition party seeks to have the most advantageous procedures for nominating its members to the Congress, regardless of the plans to nominate its candidate as ‘a single candidate’.
Currently, only two opposition parties have publicly announced their intention to nominate a single candidate – “Tell the Truth!” (Uladzimir Nyaklyaeu) and the United Civic Party (Anatoly Lebedko). “For Freedom” Movement has started to prepare to nominate its candidate as ‘a single candidate’
Interestingly, after the Ukrainian events, ‘the European choice’ has considerably lost popularity among the Belarusian population. Nevertheless, the Belarusian opposition parties and movements remain committed to European integration. They have not developed any strategies on how to build relations with Russia after Belarus joins the Eurasian Economic Union (EaEU).
The ‘People’s Referendum’ initiators reacted negatively to Belarus signing the EaEU founding treaty. In a joint statement, they called for "increasing ties with the European Union", and underscored that the Eurasian integration project “is not a union of peoples, but a union of leaders, in essence, a conspiracy”.
Almost all major opposition players uphold this position, except the former communists, the United Leftist Party “Fair World” and some marginal opposition groups. The “Fair World” members welcomed the Soviet-style rapprochement, and assessed events in Ukraine along the lines of Kremlin propaganda. “Fair World” leader, Vladimir Kalyakin, has not yet publicly announced his presidential ambition, but he is a likely contender for ‘a single opposition candidate’ status.
So far, the Belarusian authorities have managed to control pro-Russian moods in society and prevented a strong leader, who could compete with President Lukashenko, from emerging. However, among the pro-Russian electorate there is a significant group which does not trust President Lukashenko and is discontent about the pace of Eurasian integration.
The Congress of Democratic Forces, at which a single candidate from the opposition will be nominated, may be held in late 2014 - early 2015. Most major opposition groups in Belarus are committed to holding such a congress and are ready to participate in it.
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.