President Lukashenko visits Qatar, Prime Minister Myasnikovich goes to Moscow
On 15 August President Lukashenko paid an official visit to Qatar and Prime Minister Myasnikovich met with Putin at a meeting of the Council of Ministers of the Union State in Moscow.
President Lukashenko has gradually transferred the right to negotiate with the key Belarusian partner, the Kremlin, to Prime Minister Myasnikovich. Nevertheless principal political and economic decisions are still made by the President.
Firstly, the visit of President Lukashenko to Qatar meant to improve his image. The president had to expand the geography of his visits, which, after 19 December elections has been particularly narrow. There were no principal agreements reached in Qatar, the parties have signed a number of minor bilateral agreements and made a number of limited declarations of intent with regard to investment.
Secondly, the president needed to compensate for the political effect of the meeting between Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Myasnikovich in Moscow. Russia is a key economic and political partner of Belarus, and trustworthy relationship with the Russian leadership has always been the key for retaining of power by Lukashenko. Given that during the past year the Belarusian President does not enjoy the same level of confidence from the side of Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev, the role of a negotiator has been transferred to Prime Myasnikovich, who thereby increases his political influence.
For President Lukashenko it is important to “blend” the increasing role of Prime Minister Myasnikovich, therefore he uses his international visits (to keep up appearances) and takes full control over the process of privatization. A conference held on 12 July on Customs Union and Common Economic Space showed the Prime Myasnikovich has no control over Russian-Belarusian talks concerning privatization of Belarusian assets. Back then the Prime Minister listed 12 companies negotiations on the sale of which allegedly took place with Russian counterparts, however later the information was denied by Russia. Also, on 18 August General Director of "Belaruskali” announced the unacceptability of loan conditions set by a Russian bank Sberbank and a German bank “Deutsche Bank” with regard to the loan that has been preliminary agreed.
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.