Moscow conditions the parliamentary elections’ recognition with implementation of bilateral agreements
Kremlin promises the recognition of the parliamentary elections in Belarus in exchange for the implementation of bilateral economic agreements. In turn, Belarus will try to get the elections’ recognition and to put off privatization.
On August 14-15, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was on a working visit in Minsk, meeting with President Lukashenko and Belarusian Foreign Minister Sergei Martynov.
The main public message during Lavrov’s visit was Russia’s willingness to recognize the parliamentary elections to be held in Belarus in September. Minister Lavrov vowed to ensure the participation of Russian observers in several observation missions, which will operate in Belarus during the elections, organized by various international organizations: OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, OSCE/ODIHR and the CIS.
However, these political promises by Lavrov should be considered in the context of the ongoing economic bargaining between Belarus and Russia. In particular, Lavrov reminded President Lukashenko to respect previous agreements with President Putin and Prime Minister Medvedev. The most important of these relate to the privatization of large Belarusian companies, in particular, Belaruskali (discussed during Medvedev’s visit in July) and MAZ (discussed during Putin’s visit in May).
On the eve of the parliamentary elections, the Belarusian authorities face with extremely high external pressure, in particular in the economy. Suspended naphtha deliveries from Russia could have very negative consequences for the economy and increase the likelihood of authorities’ failure to fulfill their main political promises about the USD 500 average salary by the end of 2012.
In this regard, the government might make a concession with regard to privatization, as it was in autumn 2011. For instance, it might put on sale non-strategic assets, such as shares in the Belarusian mobile operator MTS. If so, privatization of industrial enterprises will be delayed until the last moment.
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.