Who benefits from the escalation of risks to public safety?
On March 12, following an anonymous report about a mine, all people were evacuated from the main railway station in Minsk. The work of the station was suspended for 35 minutes, a total of 700 people were evacuated, and an explosive device was not found.
Activities of “fake miners” in March played into the hands of president Lukashenko, who refused to pardon on 14 March one of those sentenced to death for committing a series of bombings, including a terrorist attack in the Minsk metro on April 11, 2011. The decision of the president was made public indirectly: Lukashenko commented neither his decision, nor the execution during the past week.
The state media did not link the increasing number of cases of false mining with the decision of Lukashenko. To justify the president’s decision they used an independent source, an Internet-based media “Yezhednevnik”. In particular, the latter published an article arguing that Lukashenko had no other choice because Belarusian human rights activists had politicized the case too much and put excess of pressure on the president. This argument has been used by the state TV propaganda as a reason behind the unpopular decision of the president.
Such attitude of the official propaganda implies the state apparatus found consensus in favor of execution of the defendants in the terrorist attack case. Simultaneously, the elite agreed to ignore the opinion of the majority of Belarusians, who question the official story about solo terrorists (43.4%). In this situation, open support of the official position threatens the reputation of high-ranking officials therefore none of them had yet publicly defended the president’s decision. Instead, the authorities decided to workaround through independent media.
The dramatic increase in cases of fake mining in the regions and in Minsk on the eve of the meeting of the Commission on Pardons on March 13 suggests that some “force” used them as a “shadow argument” for lobbying and/or justification of the upcoming decision of the president. It meant to demonstrate an increasing threat to public safety.
So, on March 5, because of a suspicious box, traffic was partially blocked on the Akademicheskaya Street in Minsk. The incident occurred in the immediate vicinity of the main building of the Academy of Sciences. On March 6, a group of miners examined an unattended suitcase found on the doorstep of the “Priorbank” near the Polish consulate in Minsk. The work of the bank and the consulate was suspended for several hours. On March 8, a shop and an ATM in Soligorsk were allegedly mined, which resulted in the evacuation of 70 people.
In all of the above mentioned cases, including the fake mining of a railway station in Minsk on March 12, no one claimed responsibility for the public safety threat (similar behavior was attributable to the convicted for the attack in the Minsk metro). Finally, on March 14, just before the disclosure of the rejection to pardon one of the convicts, Vladislav Kovalev, a fire broke in one of the public banyas on Kozlova Street in Minsk, which nearly resulted in an explosion of a gas cylinder.
Whoever was behind all these incidents, they objectively increased the risks for urban safety and strengthened the position of the law enforcement as the main defenders of the Belarusian population and the state system. At the same time, an extremely dangerous environment has been once again created in Belarus: it is unclear who determines the limits of such an escalation of threats, as well as potentially hazardous objects. In the summer of 2011 similar circumstances originated, when protests were dispersed involving unidentified plainclothes men.
For instance, on 16 March “Alpha” riot police broke into the Minsk branch of the Russian financial pyramid “MMM” and detained its staff. Even if the company was actually involved in illegal activities in Belarus, arrests carried out by an elite antiterrorist squad of the KGB seem disproportionate and demonstrate extreme violence. Arrests carried out by officials of the Department for Combating Economic Crimes of the MIA would look more appropriate.
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.