The Opposition and the Authorities Continue Confrontation
On April 26, Minsk held an annual Chernobyl Way march and a rally. About two thousand people attended the rally, around 30 people were detained.
The Belarusian opposition did not manage to take advantage of a favorable situation, when citizens’ trust in the public authorities was at its lowest. In 2011 - early 2012, the percentage of citizens who trusted the authorities (President, government, law enforcement agencies), was about 30-40%. However, the low attendance of recent opposition rallies shows that alternative politicians failed to offer a new inspiring and mobilizing idea. The number of participants at officially sanctioned opposition rallies in Minsk in March and April 2012 varies at the usual level of about 2-4 thousand people.
In turn, the authorities continue to use the same methods as before to effectively confront the organizers of the rallies: bans to stage rallies in the regions, preventive detention of the leaders on the eve of the event, confiscation of sound amplifying equipment, as well as detention and trials of participants after the rally.
This year’s Chernobyl Way was different from the previous ones as five activists of the Young Front had been arrested and sentenced to 10 and 15 days in custody. Several activists of the youth organisation “Revolution Through Social Networks” had been detained earlier, so we may guess that the authorities are trying to affect a potential increase in youth protests in the summer, as was the case with “Silent protests” in summer 2011.
Finally, the level of ideological and organizational preparation of the \"Chernobyl Way\" was low. First, the rally involved different parties and movements that attempted to include several messages in a final resolution ranging from the environmental risks of construction of nuclear power plant in Belarus, to political demands to release political prisoners and hold free elections. It is expected that politicization of the environmental issue will not attract new supporters.
Second, the organizers admitted that they had failed to provide sound amplifying equipment for the rally. The Belarusian TV and radio transmitting centre refused to lease equipment and a private firm asked for a high lease price ( BY Rub 20 million), which they found too expensive. An attempt to lease equipment from a private firm at the last moment ended in arrest as the police confiscated it to check documentation.
Thus, spring 2012 leaves the Belarusian opposition with a set of typical problems: lack of citizens’ trust, their reluctance to take part in street rallies, traditional pressure from the authorities, as well as low level of organization and ideological support. In turn, the government has succeeded in imposing their own action plan on the opposition, which also reduces the number of protest supporters, especially before the holiday season.
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.