Summer season will calm down Belarusian protest movements
On April 26th, the authorities allowed the Chernobyl Path, the annual demonstration, to be held in Minsk.
The small number of the demonstration participants demonstrates that the opposition’s political message as well as the environmentalists’ message advocating against the NPP construction enjoy little popularity among Belarusians. The summer holiday season, which is about to start, will make it even more difficult to gather people for street protests in the coming six months.
The Chernobyl Path demonstration, which conventionally included a march through the city and a meeting, advocated against the started construction of a nuclear power plant in Ostrovets. Independent media reported about 600 participants in the demonstration and about 200 in the meeting.
The Chernobyl Path did not attract many participants, - even less than the Freedom Day rally on March 24th – which could be explained by the starting holiday season. This factor, combined with others, such as people’s low motivation to participate in mass protests, and the opposition’s low popularity, imply that political activity in Spring-Autumn 2013 will be low.
During this period, the opposition, as well as near-political activists (environmentalists) will face difficulties in organizing street protests due to these objective reasons, even without the authorities’ interventions. In turn, the authorities if necessary can use the administrative tool to reduce the protest activity.
In particular, before the demonstration started on April 26th, the police arrested several environmentalists, thereby preventing them from taking part in the rally. After the event, several journalists, working for the independent media outlets, were briefly detained. United Civil Party Chairman Anatoly Liabedzka was detained in Ostrovets, when he was trying to enter the NPP construction site.
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.