Kremlin not yet interested in pro-Russian opposition in Belarus
The Ministry of Education’s initiative to teach Belarusian history and geography at high schools in Belarusian has set off alarmist reactions among those wishing to become the pro-Russian opposition in Belarus. However, pro-Russian historians, political analysts and officials still have few chances of becoming a real oppositional movement. Official Minsk is blocking such attempts, and the Kremlin as yet appears uninterested.
The Minister of Education, Mikhail Zhuraukou, stated that his ministry eventually plans to introduce the teaching of Belarusian geography and history in Belarusian. The minister spoke about gradually expanding the practice of teaching in Belarusian. It is worth mentioning that the previous minister of education, Siarhei Matskevich, held the same view. There were plans in 2012 to introduce the teaching of Belarusian history and geography in Belarusian. However, these plans were not implemented due to the lack of funds for publishing new textbooks. According to the Ministry, in 2012 18% of all pupils studied Belarusian history in Belarusian, while 56% studied geography in Belarusian in rural areas.
This piece of news caused pretendents for the role of pro-Russian opposition of Lukashenka’s regime to embark on some intense scaremongering. Their main websites are imperia.by and regnum.ru. The former website is Belarusian, the latter is Russian. The chief editor of regnum.ru, Modest Kolerov, is also the chief editor of the Russian far-right nationalist website IA REX. From 2002 to 2005, Kolerov served as a member of the Russian presidential administration, but was fired for “radicalism” in relation to neighbouring countries. Regnum published six commentaries by Belarusian authors with very typical statements: “Belarus will soon ban high-school instruction in Russian”, “the authorities have concentrated on popularising russophobic myths”, “Belarusian authorities wend the way of Ukraine-like nationalism”, “Belarus has launched the third forced wave of Belarusianisation at full throttle”, “Belarusian authorities continue their policy of de-russification”, “Belarusian authorities show their true colours by parlaying about radical nationalism”. Such statements lack evidence. Switching education to Belarusian will not happen any time soon, if at all. Currently there are just 150 high schools where Belarusian is the language of tuition, and parents prefer to choose Russian for their children.
The same authors scaremonger the Russian authorities with the soon-to-be “Ukrainisation” of Belarus both on Regnum and Imperia. They are former or incumbent state officials dealing with ideology and education, who, for many years, have attempted to become Lukashenka’s backbone of support. Lukashenka, however, has not let the pro-Russians become a real political power in Belarus. Now, the same people are trying to attract the Kremlin’s attention, but so far without success. Critical statements about Lukashenka in the Russian mainstream mass-media by mainstream Russian public persona appear only as a means of pressuring Lukashenka when there are disagreements among Russia and Belarus over cooperation.
So far, these pro-Russian voices have not found support in Russia. However, one cannot be sure that the Kremlin will continue to ignore this “helping hand” from Belarus – both as a means of pressuring Lukashenka during negotiations, and for more far-reaching goals.
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.