Lukashenko is trying to force the Kremlin into risks trading
Having not received pecuniary or in kind compensation from the Russian government, Minsk is trying to use ‘risks trading’ tactics against Moscow, inter alia, threatening Moscow with increased migration flows and international terrorism. In these circumstances, the Belarusian authorities have an objective interest in aggravating the situation in the country.
On September 21st, President Lukashenko disclosed details of his visit to Sochi, where he met with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
What Lukashenko said, implies that his meeting with Putin has not managed to solve the most urgent issues of bilateral cooperation, i.e. the resumption of solvents exports from Belarus or coming up with another scheme which could help to maintain a positive foreign trade balance in Belarus. Another conclusion is that negotiations focused on various compensatory mechanisms.
In particular, President Lukashenko said, that first of all, they discussed the issue of prevention of migration from Russia through Belarus to the West. “We discussed the Russo-Belarusian border situation. It is not easy. There is massive illegal migration to Europe. Security officials reported to me they were fed up with catching people with explosives at the border”, he said and noted that Belarus does not have enough resources to fight against this evil. In fact, the Belarusian KGB recently reported about the discovery of a plastids cache near the Polish border and later reported the arrest of an arms dealer in Minsk, who was selling, inter alia, sniper weapons.
Belarusian-Russian relations are complicated by the fact that after the parliamentary election campaign is over Belarus cannot use it anymore as an argument to defer fulfillment of earlier obligations. The next big political campaign (Presidential elections) will be held in 2015. The recent parliamentary campaign has demonstrated that the authorities are in control of the political situation. Therefore the argument about destabilization of the situation in the country by the opposition is weak and is not likely to ‘work out’ in Moscow. On the other hand, Minsk will continue playing ‘hard’ vis-à-vis the Western Europe (will not release political prisoners, will tighten legislation), which is likely to result in non-recognition of the new Parliament’s legitimacy and in complicated negotiations with the IMF.
The Belarusian authorities are not necessarily interested in receiving direct financial assistance from Moscow, but are willing to engage in an exchange of economic preferences in different areas (border, military, immigration). However in such ‘non-material’ bargaining with the Kremlin, Belarus will need to find relevant arguments, for instance, deteriorating of the economic situation in the country and increased security risks. In particular, the National Bank Head recently noted that Belarus is likely to carry out a new (progressive) devaluation.
Considering how openly Lukashenko talked about the need for additional funding to address migration threats, which dramatically increased in recent years, it appears that preservation of these risks is in the Belarusian authorities’ interests: in their view, it will help the efficiency of negotiations with the Russian counterparts. This implies that the overall threats to public safety in Belarus would increase too. In fact, this was a trend after December 19th, 2010 and the Belarusian power forces have a clear interest in maintaining it, since they managed to expand their powers significantly during the past 1.5 years.
Apparently, the threat of high level illegal migration through Belarus will remain high at least until the second half of December 2012, when the next scheduled regular meeting of the Supreme Council of the Union State of Belarus and Russia takes place. Perhaps, Belarus will raise the issue of the renewal of funding for the State Border Committee during that meeting.
In image terms, Belarus benefits from these talks with the Kremlin about overcoming the risks and threats, compared with difficult negotiations on privatization issues. Belarusian authorities are interested in holding both kinds of negotiations simultaneously.
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.