The Kremlin sends yet another warning signal to Minsk
Before the elections, the Kremlin mildly reminded the Belarusian authorities about their yet not fulfilled commitments concerning the state property privatization. Simultaneously, Moscow has indicated that it has not welcomed the aggravation in EU-Belarus relations provoked by the latter and that it will not take tough measures in response to the European sanctions.
On September 6th, Belarusian office of Russian news agency “Interfax” published an interview with a senior adviser at the Russian Embassy in Minsk Valeri Bondarenko.
The most important statement made by Embassy’s Senior Adviser was a reminder about the terms of credit and economic cooperation between Russia and Belarus. Mr. Bondarenko recalled a number of last summer visits to Minsk by senior Russian officials: from President Putin to State Duma heads. It is known that the main subject of talks during these visits was the privatization of Belarusian enterprises (MAZ, Belaruskali) and it is also known that Minsk is delaying the fulfillment of its obligations.
Simultaneously, the Adviser assessed the volume of economic support from Russia to Belarus – mutual duty-free trade in oil and oil products, and other factors – more than USD 6 billion – and emphasized that the European Union was not able to provide comparable support to Belarus.
Finally, Mr. Bondarenko send a strong signal that Russia was not interested in another loop of crisis in the relations between Belarus and the EU. In particular, he reiterated the August statement by Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov, who said that Russia would not take strong measures in response to the European sanctions against their Belarusian partner and suggested the following foreign policy formula: “any positive developments in the Belarus – EU relations will automatically have a positive impact on relations with Russia”.
The mentioned above nuances in the interview with Mr. Bondarenko should be regarded as yet another diplomatic reminder to the Belarus’ authorities about unfulfilled commitments. Mr. Bondarenko’s statements imply that Russia will continue to ignore the deterioration of the Belarus-EU crisis and will not make allowances. In the meanwhile, naphtha supply from Russia to Belarus is still suspended, which has a negative impact on the Belarusian foreign trade balance.
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.