Oppositions reaction to the news about possible deployment of Russian air base in Belarus
On April 23rd, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said in Minsk that by 2015 Russian airbase will be deployed to Belarus.
Nationalists, conservatives and a number of Belarus’ social movements have strongly opposed the idea, referring to the Belarus’ sovereignty. Liberal and left-wing parties take restrained and constructive stand. At the same time, the opposition has generally refrained from making collective statements in this regard.
The statement by Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu received a strong response from the Belarus’ political opposition. In particular, the Organizing Committee of the Belarusian Christian Democracy party leader, Vital Rymashevski, said that such plans were in violation of the neutrality principle declared in the Belarus’ Constitution. “European Belarus” campaign leader, Andrei Sannikov, said that such plans would strengthen the dictatorship and called upon the EU not to resume cooperation with the Belarusian authorities.
The opposition “trio” members were almost in unison. BPF leadership announced that the party would protest against the deployment using all available non-violent means. “For Freedom” movement also strongly opposed the plans, referring to the constitutional principle of neutrality. “Tell the Truth” movement stated that it was Russia that needed the airbase, not Belarus and that such project could have economic benefits for the Belarusian budget.
Liberal and left-wing parties’ reactions to the Shoigu statement were less explicit. United Civil Party member and former Belarus’ Defense Minister Kozlovski praised Lukashenko’s statement on April 26th about the potential supply of Russian fighter jets and S-300 missiles for the Belarusian army as strengthening Belarus’ defense capacities.
In turn, the Liberal Democratic Party leadership urged to have a constructive approach and to hold parliamentary hearings. Representatives of the newly formed Leftist Platform refrained from comment.
Thus, the majority of political actors took advantage of the situation to outline their positions clearly. Regardless of the existence of semi-formal opposition coalitions (‘Trio’, Leftist Platform) there were no joint statements made. The individual character of the statements made by the opposition leaders are the effects of the centrifugal trends in the Belarusian opposition, which have intensified during the parliamentary election campaign in 2012.
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.