President Lukashenko ornaments foreign policy
Before the elections, the country’s leadership takes hasty advance measures to mitigate the effects from the highly probable non-recognition of the legitimacy of the new parliament and the electoral process by the international observers. The authorities hope to limit their measures to the public relations domain.
On August 21st, President Lukashenko delivered a programmatic speech at the Belarusian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and presented the new Minister Vladimir Makey. On August 24th, the President met with staff of the international TV project “Welcome to Belarus”.
Country’s authorities act primarily in the field of public relations to improve their image. President’s surroundings believe that Vladimir Makey’s appointment as Foreign Minister will be welcomed by, first of all, the EU and the U.S., since Makey was the main policy maker behind Belarus’ Western foreign policy during the ‘liberalization’ period in 2008-2010. Therefore, President Lukashenko hopes Makey’s diplomatic skills will “normalize relations with the West”, during conflict periods in particular. It is clear that today Belarus and the West are in a conflict state.
Simultaneously, the Belarusian authorities still hope they do not need to fulfill the conditions for the resumption of the dialogue with the EU and the U.S. – to release and rehabilitate political prisoners. In particular, Lukashenko in his well-known manner, reminded the Foreign Ministry staff and reporters that today’s main challenges and risks for Belarus “are external and brought to our country by some world forces interested in destroying the stability of the Belarusian society and the state”.
Such rhetoric is rather traditional for Lukashenko and indicates that the release and rehabilitation of convicted politicians and activists is regarded as a stake card in a bargaining game, which, in the authorities’ view, has not yet begun therefore leaving any tangible democratization in the political life out of the equation. Lukashenko aims to reach a compromise at the minimal cost.
For example, such a compromise could be the minimum possible “positive” assessment of the election campaign by the OSCE and PACE international observers. Judging by the President’s statements, the government welcomed the recognition that the image of Belarus was changing for the better. In terms of the election observation mission during the parliamentary elections, the authorities would like to see ‘progress’ being asserted.
Following this logic, it is not a coincidence that on August 19th an international TV project “Welcome to Belarus” has been launched, which shows six families from China, Germany, South Korea, Spain, France and the United States making guided tours around Belarus. On August 24th, President Lukashenko personally met with the participants in the show and reiterated that Belarus was an open and welcoming country.
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.