Why Vladimir Makey cancelled his New York visit
On May 13th -14th, Belarus’ Deputy Foreign Minister Valentin Rybakov took part in a high-level meeting of the United Nations General Assembly. Earlier it had been reported that this meeting would be attended by Foreign Minister Vladimir Makey.
Belarus’ reduced representation at the UN meeting was due to a sharp deterioration in Belarusian-Russian relations and on a larger scale, because of the Russo-American conflict over the expulsion of a U.S. diplomat. No explanations were provided publicly, which implies there is little coordination between Belarus’ Foreign Ministry and the Presidential Administration.
The decision to replace Minister Makey with his Deputy Rubakov ran contrary to previous agreements. On May 3rd, Belarus’ Foreign Ministry Press Service reported a meeting between Makey and the UN Resident-representative in Minsk Samarasinghe. During the meeting the parties discussed the meeting agenda between Makey and the UN Secretary General in New York. Makey could visit New York within the UN framework, regardless of the US visa sanctions against him.
Makey’s decision not to go to New York is most likely associated with the deterioration in Russo-Belarusian relations, namely the deployment of the Russian air base. This conflict has manifested itself acutely after the scandalous informal meeting failure between Presidents Lukashenko and Putin in Sochi on May 10th. In addition, following U.S. Secretary of State Kerry’s visit to Moscow, Russo-American relations have sharply deteriorated in connection with the expulsion of a U.S. diplomat accused of spying.
This negative political context does not create favourable conditions for Belarus’ pro-active position in the West and the more so, in the United States, since Makey’s visit to the UN would have had broader agenda in couloirs meetings with U.S. representatives to talk about potential dialogue resumption, as well as the most important issue – cooperation with the IMF.
Potentially, Belarus’ leaders considered previous provocation (denial of the arrangements for the Russian air base deployment) was enough. They decided not to worsen their relations with the Kremlin and reduced Belarus’ representation level at the UN meeting. The acute phase of political relations between Minsk and Moscow was implied by the visit of Rosneft Head Igor Sechin to Minsk on May 16th, who passed ‘greetings from Putin’ to Lukashenko. Oil supplies in 2013 were discussed during the meeting.
So far it is difficult to say whether Minsk was successful in selling its strategy to Moscow. Indirectly, the success might be confirmed by a statement by the EurAsEC Anti-Crisis Fund Manager on May 15th that the allocation of the sixth tranche to Belarus would not depend on Belarus’ fulfillment of its privatization obligation (which Belarus had not fulfilled anyway). The Fund’s representative also did not rule out that Belarus could embark on a new credit programme.
In addition, on May 15th the Belarusian Foreign Ministry did not accept the invitation for Makey to take part in the Ministerial Meeting of the Eastern Partnership held in Krakow on May 17th. Belarus was represented at the meeting by Deputy Foreign Minister Kupchina. This decision could have been explained by EU visa sanctions against Makey which have not been dropped : Belarus considered that it was not appropriate for the Belarusian Foreign Minister to participate in the meeting, ‘ as a matter of exception’.
In any case, Makey’s failed visit to New York and to Krakow at the invitation of the Polish authorities are damaging the reputations of both Belarus and Minister Makey. Belarusian state media said nothing about the reasons behind these decisions, which firstly implies their urgent nature and secondly demonstrates the low level of coordination between the Foreign Ministry and the Presidential Administration on foreign policy issues.
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.