Belarus attempts to sell parliamentary elections to the West
Makey’s appointment as Foreign Minister means that Belarus will try to ’sell’ a liberalization illusion to the West in exchange for loans from international financial institutions. Makey and Prokopovich will be selling this illusion until there is a new beneficial framework for cooperation with Russia.
Staff reshuffle on August 20th, should, first of all, be interpreted as a measure to improve the search for foreign funding in the context of pre- and post-elections pressure on the Belarusian economy in general and on Belarusian ruble in particular. The Belarusian authorities have clearly lost their hope for the restoration of an adequate foreign currency income from Russia (about USD 2.5 billion in six months).
This implies, Belarus needs to consider either a large sale of state property (which is fairly complicated), or get new loans, or agree on refinancing of previous loans from international organizations (the IMF in particular). The recent staff reshuffle fits the bureaucratic system’s logic, i.e. that the local internal rearrangement should result in the anticipated external changes.
It is noteworthy that Makey’s dismissal as Presidential Administration Head has been long awaited. In fact, Makey failed as Head of Administration and after the December 19th events had lost President’s confidence significantly and, therefore, his weight in the administration. His resignation was deliberately coincided with the start of the active part of the election campaign - to indicate the possibility of changes in the Western policy, and to send a signal to the nomenclature about minor adjustments in the game’s rules.
In a wider perspective, the replacement of Sergei Tkachev as Presidential Aide on economy with Peter Prokopovich, as well as shifting Makey from the Presidential Administration to the Foreign Ministry aimed to update the authorities’ symbolic façade in order to facilitate negotiations with the IMF.
All this is meant as a fast and effective solution: to ‘sell’ the parliamentary elections with a view to resume negotiations with the IMF. At the same time, the authorities do not anticipate the recognition of the legitimacy of the Belarusian Parliament, for them the recognition of “progress” and “some democratization” in the electoral process in Belarus would be enough.
President Lukashenko had seriously restricted the room for maneuver in the upcoming negotiations. While introducing Makey and tasking him with normalizing the relations with the EU, he said, “We are ready to study hard and to learn everything new and advanced, and not only from them, but we want to do it without urges, threats or blackmail. Our people’s psychology is that you cannot make them jump through several development stages and turn out in “a happy democratic future”. These words need no further comments.
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.