Election campaign unfolding in the usual way
No significant deviations in the course of the preliminary stage of the campaign have been observed. All campaign participants use it to achieve their own objectives and, therefore, interested in preserving the traditional format.
On July 19th was the deadline for submitting application for parliamentary candidates’ initiative groups’ registration. A total of 439 applications have been submitted.
Compared with the 2008 Parliamentary campaign, there were no deviations in the flow of this election campaign stage. In 2008 455 applications were filed, in 2012 – 439. The decision about the groups’ registration will be made by the Central Election Commission next week, then until August 13th, the registered groups will be collecting signatures for their nominees.
Belarusian authorities have demonstrated moderate willingness to cooperate with international observers. On July 16th-18th, the OSCE/ODIHR needs assessment mission worked in Belarus, holding several meetings in the Belarusian Central Election Commission and the Parliament. It should be noted that previously the government had a more radical attitude and expressed doubts about the need to invite the OSCE observers. In turn, On July 20th, the OSCE announced that it will send a full-fledged observation mission to Belarus.
The opposition is acting within the previously marked trend: various opposition groups are using the campaign to address local political problems, in particular to strengthen their own positions and to create new coalitions.
For instance, last week a correspondent solidarity action between a moderate and constructive opposition leader Alexander Milinkevich, (“For Freedom” movement) and imprisoned Mikola Statkevich, leader of the Belarusian Social Democratic Party (Narodnaya Gromada) took place. Mr. Milinkevich, who plans to run for MP in Minsk, became a member of the initiative group for nominating Statkevich.
Since the probability of Mr. Statkevich’s release and rehabilitation before the elections is very low, this action has a symbolic and reputational nature, and confirms the general rule that the opposition regards elections as an additional platform to address their most pressing problems, i.e. reformatting the old coalitions and redistributing staff (there are 114 members in the Statkevich’s initiative group, which is a valuable resource in case of registration failure).
Finally, it should be noted that the level of activity by boycott supporters has decreased: the most radically-minded opposition restricts to awareness-raising campaign on independent websites. This is due to the dilution of the overall boycott strategy (there have been three elections boycott options proposed by various opposition groups: unconditional, conditional and active), and the lack of an authoritative leader in the boycott campaign. It was anticipated that ex-presidential candidate Mr. Sannikov could become such a leader. However, after his release from prison in April, he opted out of public politics.
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.