Most important events of the month. During August, the Belarusian authorities were actively working to start the process of settlement of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. Alexander Lukashenko was in the «telephone diplomacy» mode in connection with the war between the two most important trade, economic and technological partners of our country:
— On 02.08.2014: a telephone conversation with the President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev on promotion of normalization of the situation in Ukraine;
— On 04.08.2014: a telephone conversation between Alexander Lukashenko and the President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko;
— On 07.08.2014: a telephone conversation between Alexander Lukashenko and the Russian President Vladimir Putin on association between Ukraine and EU;
— On 11.08.2014: a telephone conversation between A. Lukashenko and Nazarbayev, during which they discussed the idea of holding summit talks in Minsk on the situation in Ukraine;
— On 13.08.2014: Alexander Lukashenko twice had a telephone conversation with Putin on holding the summit in order to discuss issues of Ukraine-EU Association and the war. On the same day, the same subject was discussed in a telephone conversation with N. Nazarbayev;
— On 15.08.2014: А Alexander Lukashenko had another telephone conversation with V. Putin;
— On 19.08.2014: telephone conversations with the presidents of Russia and Kazakhstan on issues of relations with Kiev in connection with signing of the Association Agreement with the EU on the situation in Ukraine in general and measures to normalize the situation in the country. On the same day a telephone conversation with Poroshenko and agreement on holding meeting of the leaders of Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia and Ukraine with participation of representatives of the EU on 26.08.2014 in Minsk;
— On 25.08.2014: a telephone conversation between A. Lukashenko and Nazarbayev on organization and holding of meetings of the leaders of Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia and Ukraine with the participation of the EU on 08.26.2014in Minsk.
On 26.08.2014 Alexander Lukashenko stated that the event was initiated by the Ukrainian leader Poroshenko.
On 27.08.2014 Alexander Lukashenko and Nursultan Nazarbayev continued discussing the issues raised at the meeting.
Unfortunately, the breakthrough has not occurred as a result of the meeting in Minsk. Subsequent truce has the character of a respite for the parties and is used by them to accumulate forces and strengthen their position. The war actions may resume at any time. The Russian-Ukrainian conflict may drag on for years.
Dynamics of the situation development for the past month. The positive achievement of national diplomacy should be highlighted: a visit of the Minister of Foreign Affairs Vladimir Makey to Poland on August 28-29. The relations between Minsk and Warsaw may be regarded as a kind of indicator of relations between Belarus and the West in general. The availability of interest in their recovery is the encouraging sign. Especially, given the fact that the Polish representative will be at the helm of EU, and Poland itself is a strategic partner of the United States. The relations with the latest are much more important for the Belarusian security than the relationship with Brussels. Moreover, that the behavior of the Europeans in the current crisis was too often confusing and frustrating due to inconsistency and sometimes outright hypocrisy.
Despite the foreign policy background, the government and the opposition do not forget about the upcoming presidential elections. Although the result will be traditional, the opponents of the government decided to try to steal the election fad of A. Lukashenko: the fight against corruption. The opposition stated that they also would like to fight against corruption in Belarus. Among the potential fighters are: United Civil Party, the «Green», the left-wing party «Fair World», the organizing committee of the Labour Party and the party «Nadzeja», Movement «For Freedom», civil campaign «For Fair Elections», «Our House», the Social Democratic Party (Hramada). On 06.08.2014 they have developed a joint action plan to combat corruption and distributed problematic issues between the parties. Now they are already working on anti-corruption report, putting forward the ideas for realization and implementation of an information campaign. The aim is to determine the volume and causes of corruption. And then to disclose the specific cases. The latter is more interesting: the war of compromising materials is an integral part of the electoral process in the post-Soviet countries, but not in Belarus. At least, not yet.
This was not the only anti-corruption matter in August. The Belarusian authorities made public a draft law «On Combating Corruption». In general, it is a formal gesture of the election campaign of Alexander Lukashenko. Especially, because earlier the Belarusian leader stated that the existing legal framework is sufficient to curb corruption.
The draft law does not seem sufficiently developed. The phenomenon of corruption is wider than direct material gain or preferences. It is important to evaluate the practice of employing relatives by the senior officials with the level of wages in excess of the market wage for this position. We should also highlight employment of relatives and family members by officials, whose activities are associated with adoption of taking important decisions, including in the area of national security, foreign commercial and non-profit organizations. Or receipt of financial assistance (grants) from the foreign states and international organizations in connection with different kinds of social activities. It should be mentioned that during the previous «thaw» between Minsk and Brussels relatives of some senior officials got serious amounts of money in the form of grant support for various activities (medical, humanitarian, cultural, environmental, etc.). It is obvious that thus a network of agents is created and the sources of information are purchased within the state apparatus. The same may be told about the practice of internships and studying abroad for the children of senior officials on a pro bono basis. Separately, we should recollect the practice of cohabitation (the so-called civil marriage). The Belarusian legislation does not recognize it as registered marriage. In this regard, all restrictions on the business activities of spouses of such officials are easily ignored by the official dissolution of marriage, preserving marriage relationships de facto. Unfortunately, the draft law «On Combating Corruption» does take into not account such circumstances.
On 07.08.2014 Alexander Lukashenko met the Minister of Internal Affairs Igor Shunevich. Among other issues they discussed the reform of the system of internal affairs bodies, which is scheduled to be completed by the end of this year. The details of such changes in the Ministry of Interior were not disclosed.
Russian officials are still the only source of public information about the prospects for creation of the air base in the country. So, on 11.08.2014, the Air Forces commander of the country Viktor Bondarev stated that after signing of an intergovernmental agreement the deployment of the air base in Baranovichy will begin. If this happens, there is a high probability that the Belarusian fighters, located there, will be moved to another airport. Perhaps, to Bobruisk, closer to the border with Russia.
In August it became known that Russian United Aircraft Corporation (hereinafter referred to as UAC) intends to enter in the number of shareholders of the 558th Aircraft Repair Plant (hereinafter referred to as ARP) in Baranovichi (enterprise engaged in repair and modernization of a large range of Soviet manufacture combat aircrafts). This will double the revenues by 2025 (to almost USD 300 million). The priority will be the increase in the volume of aircraft components manufacture. However, in absolute terms, the planned volume is not impressive: only USD 28 million in 10 years.
An almost two-fold increase in production volumes in Baranovichy UAC is offered primarily due to repair of the training aircrafts L-39 for the Russian Air Forces. It is interesting to note that by 2025 most of these machines will overstep a 40-year milestone. The amount of L-39 in the Russian Air Forces is not large enough to ensure the revenue of USD 150 million only due to their repair. Chances are that UAC is interested in the 558th ARP primarily as in the mechanism to avoid the possible sanctions of the West and Ukraine against the Russian aircraft industry.
On 18.08.2014 A. Lukashenko met the Secretary of the Security Council Alexander Mezhuev. The Belarusian leader expressed dissatisfaction with the level of discipline, especially among the officers and even the general officers in the Ministry of Defence. This statement may shed light on the cause of the resignation of Deputy Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Belarus Major General Igor Lavrynenko on 04.08.2014. Earlier, during the current and previous years, the General was honoured with governmental awards, which indirectly indicates that the reason for the resignation could be a misdemeanour.
Lukashenko also demanded “new forms and methods of work” from the KGB and stated complaints about the quality of government communications, which is the responsibility of the KGB. Claims of this kind were made for the first time, although they cannot be called unexpected. Belarus has a fairly limited technological groundwork for creation of a fully national system of government communications, on the one hand. On the other hand, the exclusive use of foreign technologies in this area does not guarantee that such a relationship will remain protected.
Separately the situation on the Belarusian-Ukrainian border was discussed. Lukashenko demanded from the Belarusian border guards «to avoid any claims from Ukraine.” According to the Belarusian leader, there is an agreement with the President of Ukraine Poroshenko that all law enforcement agencies of the two countries “should be in constant cooperation.” The objective is to avoid misunderstanding in the actions of a neighbouring country. Lukashenko has received assurances that the interaction between all law enforcement agencies of Belarus and Ukraine was established and the exchange of information is constantly performed. On the same day, during a press conference, the Ambassador of Belarus in Ukraine Valentin Velichko stated that our government will not tolerate aggression of the third countries against Ukraine from its territory. Belarus supports the territorial integrity of Ukraine and is against federalization.
Reassuring statements of the Belarusian authorities were made on the first day of the exercises of Collective Rapid Response Forces of the Collective Security Treaty (hereinafter CSTO) «Interaction-2014» in Kazakhstan. For the purposes of working out training tasks provisional states were created as part of the Collective Security Treaty Organization: «Karania» and «Irtyshiya», bordering «Karania» and experiencing an acute political crisis caused by the separatist movement against the background of ethnic tension. By the way the crisis in «Irtyshiya» originated with the support of «some of the leading states of the West.» «Karania» appealed to the Collective Security Treaty Organization with a request for military assistance, and by the decision of the Collective Security Council Member States such assistance was rendered. The exercise has also simulated conduct of cyber operations on the Internet and conduct psychological warfare. It was officially stated about the threat of destabilization of the situation in Afghanistan and spread of instability in the CSTO neighbouring countries. However, working off of cyber operations suggests that the real object is a more developed country. The exercise scenario is transparent enough to remind of the events in Ukraine.
In August, live firings of air defence missile system S-300 (hereinafter referred to as ADMS) were held in air defence military units of the Armed Forces of Belarus at the site of Telemba (Russia). Among others, the units of 377th anti-aircraft missile regiment, which is currently armed with S-200, participated in the event. This regiment is the primary intended recipient of the S-300, which supply from Russia has been discussed during the past few years. In addition destroying of air targets worked out well, the strikes on ground targets were practiced either.
Conclusions. Talking about the meeting in Minsk on 26.08.2014 among the leaders of the four post-Soviet countries (Belarus Kazakhstan Russia and Ukraine) and the EU representatives, the following two issues are worth mentioning:
— it seems that Vladimir Putin was forced to participate in the event under the pressure of the Eurasian integration partners;
— the allegation that the official Minsk is seeking to use the Russian-Ukrainian war to raise its value in the eyes of the West at the expense of peace-building initiatives is strongly exaggerated. Ukraine and Russia are the largest trading partners of Belarus. Continuation of the war between them threatens to bring down their economies, and the Belarusian one as well. Quick settlement of the conflict is critically important for our country in such conditions.
Moreover, the role of Minsk, according to the Belarusian authorities themselves, is more technical, rather than mediative. Talks about a breakthrough in relations with the EU are premature. Laudable statements of European officials about Belarus are no more than the act of politeness against the hosts. It is inappropriate to consider establishment of a working group to end the war as recognition of the official Minsk. Similar peacemaking group already exists: the OSCE Minsk Group on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. It was established in 1992. This fact in no way contributed to prestige and international influence of Belarus.
Unification of the opposition around the anti-corruption issue may be welcomed. This problem for many years offers itself to the first lines of the electoral programs of the opposition parties. But there are two things that bring doubt on the effectiveness of initiatives:
— the majority of anti-corruption agreements are political mirages and represent the leader and a small group (several dozen) of his supporters;
— unfortunately, experience shows that the opposition politicians (and the people who consider themselves as such) are not very good at working together, the majority of joint projects «dies» quickly and completely. The unifying initiatives that are backed financially show signs of life slightly longer. But only as long as they are supported financially.
The draft law “On Combating Corruption” may be regarded as an issue of the election program of Lukashenko. It is an attempt to discipline the state apparatus and increase its manageability. It should be noted that in Belarus is not a tradition to publicly discuss the laws. The problem of corruption in our country comes not because from the law gaps, but because of the non-transparency of the system of government (including management of state-owned enterprises). The lack of political will of the highest leadership of the country to fight corruption remains the main deterrent.
Moving of the fighters airbase of the Belarusian Air Forces from Baranovichy may negatively affect the state of the domestic aviation personnel: the big question is whether the authorities provide the pilots at the new station of duty with accommodation, and their families with opportunities to work and study. As a result, some soldiers may refuse to move to a new station of duty and refuse from the already established way of life.
Speaking about the prospects of UAC participation in the capital of 558th ARP, we note that in the existing conditions any investor should be welcomed. Especially if it has the technology. They have it at UAC. At the same time, it is doubtful that the Belarusian authorities have sold the controlling share. Firstly, there is a real threat of the Western sanctions expansion on the Russian aircraft, which could jeopardize the Belarusian manufacture. Secondly, Belarus is interested in technologies, rather than in their withdrawal, which may happen in case of transfer of control over the high-tech production to the foreign investor.
Active pro-Ukrainian statements of the Belarusian authorities in August could be a reaction to the information that Russia is preparing for some kind of large-scale operation to enforce peace. At the same time Moscow as soon as possible will be able to concentrate forces, capable of addressing not only (and not so much) the humanitarian, but also military tasks. To put it simply, we are talking about the intervention. Such a scenario is being followed during the exercise of the CSTO «Inviolable brotherhood 2014» and «Interaction-2014». The maneuvers were preceded with transfer of Russian forces over long distances with their standard weapons. The military exercises were accompanied by the use of artillery, armoured vehicles, aircraft, as well as by landing a massive air assault. In fact, it is not a peacekeeping operation or a large-scale military operation, in which humanitarian tasks are complementary.
It should be noted that the CSTO peacekeeping forces may be used only with the consensus of the Council of the Collective Security Organization, which consists of the heads of member states. And to use them outside of the territory of the organization, the mandate of UN Security Council is to be obtained, which is practically impossible.