The struggle with the opposition grows lenient
On April 6, an employee of the JSC “Grodno Nitrogen” filed a lawsuit against ex-presidential candidate Dmitry Uss claiming damages of Br 1 million for Uss’ appeals to introduce economic sanctions against Belarus. An identical claim for Br 500 thousand was filed by a worker of the Mozyr Oil Refinery against the Head of the Organizing Committee of the People’s Assembly Mr. Ivashkevich.
Broad public media campaign, supporting both claims implies that the authorities continue mobilization on the eve of the parliamentary elections. The National TV channel reported about the claims during the prime time. Earlier the National TV showed a series of critical films about a number of foreign embassies in Belarus and their partners among the opposition.
Traditionally, election campaigns in Belarus are accompanied by criticism of various external forces and by creation of an image of the enemy, which is set off as a negative background to report about the achievements of the Belarusian authorities. In this particular case, the broad media campaign about the civil lawsuits against citizens who called for economic sanctions against Belarusian enterprises is used to mobilize the working class against the opposition politicians and for the support of official policy.
Apart from social mobilization, civil suits against the opposition give the authorities a formal excuse to restrict their rights temporarily, in particular their right to travel outside Belarus.
In both cases courts have banned Mr. Uss and Mr. Ivashkevich from leaving Belarus immediately after accepting the suits. Both gentlemen are known for their harsh criticism of political and electoral system of Belarus and worked on boycotting of the election campaign (Ivashkevich) and on monitoring of the voting (Uss).
So far the travel ban for the political opponents of the authorities has been informal (and often illegal). The authorities have a lot more stringent measures at their disposal, for instance, article 369-1 of the Criminal Code, “Discrediting the Republic of Belarus”, which envisages arrest for up to six months or imprisonment for up to two years. Previously the Prosecutor General has issued warnings about potential criminal liability for calling for sanctions against Belarus.
Most likely, the authorities assess the long-term effects of the use of harsh legal measures - both for themselves and for the opposition - as greater than the negative effect of the short-term scandals that accompany the use of informal and semi-formal measures against the opposition. Opening of new criminal cases is likely to result in further deterioration of relations with the West (and Russia). Therefore, the authorities continue using situational interventions against their opponents: banning them from leaving the country without explanation, taking them off the trains on suspicion of the trafficking of drugs, confiscation of passports, civil lawsuits and other.
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.