Belarusian-Russian relations remain tense
On June 20th, President Lukashenko spoke at the 15th World Congress of the Russian press plenary session, held in Minsk.
Sharp criticism by Lukashenko of the Russian authorities implies that tensions between Minsk and Moscow continue. Simultaneously, Belarus is playing fairly successfully in the Russian information-ideological field.
Lukashenko’s the most significant political statement was open criticism of the liberal market system, enacted in Russia in the 90s, which was still in place. In particular, Lukashenko said that unlike in Russia, “property was not stolen from the people” in Belarus and that “an economic system based on fraud is not sustainable”. Such statements are typical for the Belarusian president, but in this particular case, they were uttered in the presence of the leading Russian media managers and Russian politicians (eg, First Deputy Chairman of the Russia’s State Duma Alexander Zhukov).
Firstly, Lukashenko’s rhetoric suggests that the presidents of Belarus and Russia are still busy bargaining about economic issues (oil supply volumes to Belarus, privatization, trade preferences within the Customs Union, military and technical cooperation) without reaching a compromise. Allegedly, Lukashenko’s harsh statement was his reaction to a telephone conversation with Putin on June 19th
Secondly, Lukashenko’s statement should be regarded in a broader ideological contest. Belarusian authorities regularly invite Russian journalists to Belarus to demonstrate “the Belarusian Social-oriented economic model benefits” and actively criticize Russia’s liberal market system. Often Russian regional media journalists are invited to take part in such ‘press-tours’ however this time the authorities reached out to a new level and participated in the World Congress of Russian Press.
It should be noted that Vladimir Putin’s election campaign in 2012 was based on populist rhetoric. However he has not yet managed to fulfill his promises and attempts to force the government to follow his orders face an open opposition by the Russian elite. The situation creates favourable environment for the Belarusian authorities in the Russian information field to advertise Belarusian experience in economic policies management and strict control over political elites.
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.