Sannikov tries to maintain political autonomy
Andrei Sannikov’s team seeks to preserve political autonomy and to establish an independent political emigration center. This process is complicated by still unclear Sannikov’s public policy objectives and by the lack of support from the rest of the Belarusian opposition forces, who have already recognized the Rada of the Belarusian People’s Republic as a focal point for political forces in immigration.
On November 13th, in an interview with the Belarusian service of “Radio Liberty”, the former Presidential candidate Andrei Sannikov said that his representative was not allowed in negotiations concerning elaboration of the so-called “Vilnius Memorandum” of the Belarusian opposition. He also described the document as unprofessional and threatening the Belarus’ independence.
According to Sannikov, a representative of “European Belarus” civil campaign, which he heads, was not invited to discuss the ‘Vilnius memorandum’, a document signed by 12 opposition forces on November 3rd in Vilnius. A number of actors also signed the memorandum post factum. Mr. Sannikov expressed a number of comments about the document and in the end he refused to sign it. Later, BNR Chairwoman Iwonka Survilla said, that an invitation to the meeting had been sent to Sannikov’s group, along with a draft Memorandum for discussion.
Most likely, the conflict between the “European Belarus” and the BNR is deeper and not related to organizational issues of the meeting in Vilnius or professionalism of the Memorandum authors. Since the signed Memorandum recognizes the NBR’s exceptional legitimacy as a Belarusian authorities’ body until the fall of the Lukashenko regime, it would be logical to explain Sannikov’s refusal to sign it by that his group has plans to create an alternative government in exile.
In the meanwhile, “European Belarus” has not yet proposed any positive programme for political action and limits itself to criticism of their colleagues in the opposition. At the same time, the majority of the “European Belarus” activists have already left Belarus, in particular, Mr. Bondarenko (Sannikov’s trustee) and Mr. Atroshchankau (Sannikov’s former press secretary). The “European Belarus’” best-known project is a socio-political website “Charter 97”.
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.