The Russian Duma elections in the context of Russo-Belarusian relations
The results of the Duma election campaign, and the protests against vote-rigging that sprung up throughout Russia on December 10, will also affect Belarusian-Russian relations. Inside the Duma, the reinforced position of the CPRF and A Just Russia duo could lead to new media conflicts between the Kremlin and Lukashenko.
The results of the Duma election campaign, and the protests against vote-rigging that sprung up throughout Russia on December 10, will also affect Belarusian-Russian relations. Inside the Duma, the reinforced position of the CPRF and A Just Russia duo, which are led by Lukashenko’s main lobbyists, could lead to new media conflicts between the Kremlin and Lukashenko.
One factor which prevented the ruling party United Russia from gaining a constitutional majority, or even a simple majority, was a coordinated information campaign by the non-Kremlin parties, whose key pre-election message called on the electorate to vote for anyone but the ruling party United Russia. Moreover, numerous leaders from the liberal camp made direct calls to vote for their ideological rivals, the Communists, since they had the best chances of getting into the Duma.
This example could serve as an inspiration for the Belarusian opposition but, so far, Belarusian opposition leaders have never really attempted to analyse and adapt their Russian counterparts’ experience.
During the run-up and post-election periods, the duo’s harsh statements regarding America and the international community gave Aleksandr Lukashenko hope that conflicts would resurface between Russia and America. Lukashenko feels that if Russia is opposed to America, it will have greater need of Belarus as a military and political partner, thus allowing him to demand preferential treatment for his loyalty.
To a certain extent, this is a fair assessment. However, the CPRF and A Just Russia’s improved position may induce an undercurrent of conflict between the Kremlin and Lukashenko. This is because Lukashenko’s traditional lobbyists in Russia are concentrated inside those parties. During the years of United Russia’s undivided domination, Lukashenko was forced to refrain from his attempts to enter Russian internal politics, relying mostly on the Kremlin and the duo’s mutual relations. However the CPRF and A Just Russia’s current position will make it very tempting for him to run in the campaign as part of the anti-Kremlin opposition. Such a game will inevitably make the Kremlin embark on a media war, and eventually bring about conflicts in the economic sector. The risks of getting involved in the Russian campaign should prevent Lukashenko from succumbing to temptation, but the rather reckless, careless foreign policies of his eldest son Viktor’s team might make the Belarusian leadership act without due caution.
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.