Developing a unified strategy for the opposition
Discussions related to the development of a strategic action plan for the Belarusian opposition in the aftermath of the presidential elections are taking place at various venues with participation of a number of political, civil and other expert groups.
The recent debates on “Strategy 2012”, held on 6 April in the Minsk office of the BPF Party (Belarusian Polular Front) with participation of representatives of the movements “Belarusky Ruh”, “Tell the Truth!”, “Belarusian Popular Front”, consortium EuroBelarus and others, confirmed that the main obstacle is a split of ideas between the main political forces regarding the strategic choice of further actions. Roughly speaking, the split breaks down to two major strategies:
- Boycotting any dialogue with the authorities until all political prisoners are released (Belarusky Rukh) and
- Continuation of negotiations with the government on holding free elections (National Platform of the Civil Society Forum of the Eastern Partnership).
Conditions of political and civic organizations’ participation in the unified strategy of the democratic forces as well as what the final version of the strategy will look like, is still not clear. All in all, there are reasons for doubt whether the project will take place at all. At the same time every passing electoral cycle makes it more and more complicated to consolidate the democratic forces.
Today there are no grounds to believe that so-called supporters of the “dialogue” will ever come to consensus with the so-called supporters of “revolution”. The challenges of coordination of their positions associated not only with differences in goals, values, political preferences, interests and assessment of the current situation by various groups, but also with extremely low level of trust within the democratic community.
In its turn, low level of trust, along with the complex joint history and unavoidable mutual grievances given the extended shared experience, is a result of the dominating perception within the community that competition for popularity, financial and human resources requires complete destruction of the enemy (i.e. in essence democratic politicians use almost the same logic as the regime, however compared with the latter they seriously limit themselves with the choice of means).
Another important obstacle on the way to consensus, or at least to minimal coordination of the actions of the opposition is that during the election campaign and events that followed, both groups failed. It is obvious that the “dialogue” strategy bogged down in repressions, and the strategy of “revolution”, having gained certain moral victory (the Belarusian regime has not been recognized by the international community, i.e. their short-term goal fulfilled), was defeated because its leaders were not able to establish superiority. It is likely that in the near future, in particular, after harsh sentences rendered to political activists, advocates of the strategy of “revolution” will still not be able to have the odds in their favour.
Finally, the draft project of consolidation of the democratic forces “Strategy 2012” described above, was not proposed by a political party, it is a “baby” of the association of civic organizations, partner organizations of the International Civil Society Forum of the Eastern Partnership. This neutral platform could become a real ground for uniting the opposition. However, previous negative experience of the Rada of the Belarusian intelligentsia in trying to identify a single opposition candidate for the presidential elections in 2010 gives reasons for treating the new initiative quite critically. The upcoming conference “The role and place of civil society in the future strategy”, scheduled for April 11-12 will dot all i’s and cross all t’s in this regard.
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.