Authorities attempt to restrict access to information about military and political processes in Belarus
The Belarusian authorities are fearful of the rising interest from other states, including Russia, in Belarus’ military-industrial complex development and military policy. Amid the conflict in Ukraine and the Kremlin’s aggressive foreign policy, a crisis of trust is building up in the post-Soviet space. The protracted confrontation between Russia and the West might lead to an increase in "spy scandals" in the region and to Belarus attempting to restrict information about military and political processes in the country.
Last week, the media reported that the Belarusian KGB detained a well-known military commentator, Alexander Alesin.
According to unofficial information, Alesin was accused of spying for another state. The KGB neither confirmed nor denied this information. Alesin, who writes for Belarusy i Rynok ,is a popular commentator on military issues, the Belarusian army, and the Ministry of Defence in the independent Belarusian media. He has also been quoted by publications outside Belarus, including from Russia.
Russian media has has noted probable changes in its ally’s military doctrine, paying special attention to how experts interpreted the recent appointment of the Defence Minister in Belarus Russian journalists have quoted some military experts as saying that Lukashenko feared a repetition of the Crimean scenario in Belarus, and that the Belarusian army was preparing to repel possible Russian aggression in the "hybrid war".
In addition, the Russian media have referred to some internal sources in the Belarusian Defence Ministry which confirmed the authorities’ concerns about Russia’s aggression vis-a-vis Ukraine. However, it is doubtful that they really had a source in the Belarusian Defence agency, as all the commentaries from the “Belarusian sources” in the Russian media contained publicly available information which had already been voiced by various Belarusian independent analysts, including Alesin.
For example, Alesin’s most recent comments concerned the Belarusian army’s combat capability; changes in the modernisation policy due to the leadership change at the Defence Ministry; potential cooperation between the Ukrainian "Motor Sich" and the Belarusian Orsha Aircraft Repair Plant to supply military products to Russia; and about the Kremlin strengthening its military presence in Belarus.
It seems that mutual mistrust is growing between Minsk and Moscow, aggravated by the military conflicts in the region and sanctions confrontation between Russia and the West. Belarus is extremely wary of the rising interest from the Kremlin (and other neighbouring states) in her military-political processes . In addition, Belarus is starting to feel the negative effects of the EU-Russia confrontation due to the increasingly tense relations with her neighbours who have chosen the Euro-Atlantic integration path.
In addition, last week, the Lithuanian Prosecutor General’s Office announced the arrest of a Lithuanian army paramedic on suspicion of spying for Belarus. He is suspected of spying for the Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Belarus. In November, the Prosecutor General of Lithuania reported that the Vilnius Regional Court would hear a criminal case against another Lithuanian citizen on charges of spying for Belarus. According to the Lithuanian Prosecutor’s Office, he was secretly sending documents from the state enterprise Oro navigacija to the MID General Staff of Belarus. Head of Lithuanian Security Department Gediminas Grin suggested that the Russian secret services may also have been interested in this information.
Belarus has recently been reviewing security on all her borders, including Russia. In September, President Lukashenko signed a decree to establish a border area with Russia – until then there was no border, customs control, or border zone regime.
Amid growing mistrust among states in the post-Soviet region, Belarus is bolstering the role of the security agencies and special services in the state’s policy.
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.