Immediate future of Belarus-EU “dialogue”
Alexander Lukashenko sees no immediate need in a dialogue with the West however he is planning to release all political prisoners and to negotiate the approval of the IMF loan with the US and EU to survive until the New Year.
He has no further plans therefore as soon as he receives the loan (at least USD 1.5 billion), his “geopolitical” and “liberal/repressive" moods will swing in the opposite direction.
Last week’s public appearances of Alexander Lukashenko spotlighted his vision of the situation and his plans and expectations vis-?-vis the West. Lukashenko hopes that:
- references to threats from Russia,
- release of political prisoners,
- a round table between representatives of quangos and the opposition,
- introduction of a supplementary session on the Belarusian Currency and Stock Exchange
would be sufficient for the approval of the IMF loan for Belarus by the EU and the USA.
The Head of state, nevertheless, is not interested in a dialogue with the West as he has no idea (except for cancellation of visa restrictions) what to expect from it. However he would like to mitigate the political climate in the relations with the West, in the first place, to continue bargaining with Moscow for fringe benefits, and secondly, in order to expand opportunities for international lending to the Belarusian economy.
He unequivocally declared that he was not interested in political and real economic transformations. His advisors believe that transformations would further undermine his authority, which is not in the best shape at the moment. Lukashenko also sees no reason for real transformations, as it would weaken his position domestically, while benefits are hypothetical by nature.
Therefore he is not even trying to imitate transformations, he relies purely on the imagination of European politicians and the opposition, hoping that sacred words “dialogue”, “round table”, “rapprochement”, “privatization”, etc will trigger a chain of associations and will be perceived as a starter pistol. If there are no counter-proposals, he will send a behind the scenes hint inviting for couloirs negotiations via his security forces and ideology workers.
According to estimates of the ruling group, about USD 1-1.5 billion is needed in order to keep going before the sale of Beltransgaz to Gazprom and a new round of negotiations with Russia. The authorities have high expectations regarding these talks and their success is conditioned inter alia by the “European” stake however the main goal is to move to the next phase of the Customs Union. That is why there is “time pressure”, the money is needed now otherwise the National Bank will not be able to intervene at the supplementary session.
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.