Lukashenko craves for retaining Belarus’ influence in Latin America
On March 7th – 8th, President Lukashenko went to Venezuela to attend the President Hugo Chavez’s funeral.
Minsk seeks not to lose its influence in Latin America after the Venezuelan President Chavez’s death. At the same time, the farewell ceremony created a setting for an informal meeting between the representatives of the Belarusian and the U.S. delegations.
Chavez’ funeral changed format – first it was planned to bury him on March 8th, but later to embalm his body - permitted President Lukashenko to take part in the ceremony. Previously Belarus was supposed to be represented by President’s Chief Executive and Chairman of the Belarusian-Venezuelan High Commission Mr. Sheiman and First Deputy Prime Minister Mr. Semashko. Farewell ceremony gathered more than thirty heads of states, raising it to the highest international level.
Lukashenko’s political goal during his visit was to ensure the continuity of the previous agreements between Belarus and Venezuela, and other Latin American countries. It is known that Lukashenko held meetings with the Presidents of Bolivia, Ecuador, Haiti, Cuba as well as Venezuela’s Vice President and likely successor of Chavez, Mr. Maduro.
Finally, the U.S. delegation’s composition, announced on March 7th, suggested there could be a meeting with Belarus’ delegates Viktor Sheiman and Vladimir Semashko. In particular, one of the members of the American delegation was former chairman of the Subcommittee on Europe of the Committee on Foreign Affairs in the U.S. Congress’ House of Representatives, William Delahunt. In October 2010 he held talks in Minsk with Prime Minister Sidorsky and Presidential Administration Head Makey.
Currently Mr. Delahunt heads a lobbying firm Delahunt Group, which, inter alia, offers consultancy services on international relations and economic development. Belarus could be interested in such consultations, bearing in mind its preparations for the “thaw” in relations with the West. However, there were no public reports about meetings between the Belarusian and American delegations.
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.