Since the Russian-Ukrainian conflict began, the Kremlin has persistently tried to expand its control over Belarus, a process that has had quite the opposite effect as Belarusian government policy became more independent in 2014-2015.
There has always existed a paradox in the simultaneous contingence and estrangement in Belarusian-Russian relations.
Estrangement looks the stronger of the two today, evidenced by the decrease in Belarus’ military dependence on Russia and its refusal to allow the establishment of a Russian military base on its territory; the reduction in the Russian economy’s role in Belarus; discrepancies in the foreign policy and media spheres; and conflicts between the political elites of both countries.
This month Freedom House published Nations in Transitions report on Belarus authored by the Editor-in-Chief of Belarus Digest Yaraslau Kryvoi.
According to methodology, country experts prepare reports while Freedom House has a final say on the ratings. Most of Belarus' ratings remained the same except for Civil Society and Election Process which have slightly improved.
The Electoral Process rating improved because of a reduction in political violence and persecution of opposition figures, and the relative openness of criticism of the government in the October presidential election. The Civil Society rating improved due to the release of civic activists from prison and an increase in political space for advocacy campaigns and fund-raising during the year.
The organisers of the Minsk Dialogue conference in Minsk (Liberal Club and the Ostrogorski Centre) released the non-paper timed for the Riga Eastern Partnership Summit which will take place in Riga on 21-22 May 2015.
The non-paper results from intensive discussions between experts from European Union, Russia and Eastern Partnership countries in Minsk and subsequent due diligence efforts.
The non-paper starts by analysing the reasons for the regional divide in the European Union and Russian shared neighbourhood, discusses the reasons why communication between major regional actors failed and the need for new channels of communication in the region bases, including increased communication on micro-level and within the expert community.
Belarus is returning to the international spotlight, but for once, not just as the “last dictatorship in Europe”. The two summits that Minsk hosted in the past year on the conflict in east Ukraine indicate a tentative shift in Belarus’s political alignment.
Yaraslau Kryvoi and Andrew Wilson analyze what the West should do in relation to Belarus in a paper produced jointly by the European Council on Foreign Relations and the Ostrogorski Centre.
Although Belarus was more of a broker than a genuine neutral party at the negotiations that produced the two “Minsk Agreements”, the government has profound doubts about Russia’s assault on its neighbour’s sovereignty.
Without any loud political rhetoric to bolster the Belarusian army, it has nonetheless gradually developed from an appendage cut off of the huge Soviet military into an army more adapted to the needs and capacities of a 9.5-million nation.
Belarus has been spending little on its armed forces yet has consistently used them to promote better and closer relations with Russia. Despite their close ties, Russia has not shown interest in taking over Belarus' armed forces or integrating them into their own.
These are some of the conclusions found in a new analytical paper Belarusian Army: Its Capacities and Role in the Region released by the Ostrogorski Centre today.
The regime of Aliaksandr Lukashenka rejected the ethno-national model of state suggested by his predecessors in the early 1990s.Instead, he restored a soviet style “statist nation” with a centralised bureaucratic machine at its core.
These are the conclusions reached in a new analytical paper "Belarusian Identity: The Impact of Lukashenka's Rule" released by the Centre for Transition Studies today.
Identity issues, particularly those surrounding language and historical narrative, formed the foundation of the persisting cleavage between the authoritarian regime and the democratic opposition in Belarus since 1994. The population of the country, although not nearly as divided with regard to its identity as Ukraine, also has not produced a consensual version of self-determination.
The European Humanities University (EHU) was forced into exile in 2004 when the Belarusian authorities withdrew its licence. This followed the EHU’s refusal to acquiesce to government pressure to change its leadership. The exiled University found its new home in Vilnius, which is less three-hours by train from Minsk.
The current rector of the EHU should step down soon in line with the requirements of Lithuanian law, having served two terms. The Centre for Transition Studies publishes a paper authored by Yaraslau Kryvoi and Alastair Rabagliati which aims to launch a constructive public discussion on the direction of the EHU under the new leadership, to deal with the challenges facing both the EHU and Belarusian society.
Belarus Digest and the Centre for Transition Studies are launching a series of analytical papers offering in-depth analysis of various aspects of Belarus often overlooked by Western experts and press.
The forthcoming papers will deal with personalities within the Belarusian regime, national identity of Belarusians, the system of education in Belarus, reforms of bureaucracy, business climate and other topics.
The first paper prepared by Siarhei Bohdan analyses the Belarusian political and economic establishment, its features and potential and prospects for change. While the government’s authority is concentrated in President Lukashenka, he needs a sophisticated state structures to run the country and has retained his retinue for years. While Lukashenka as a politician has been analysed quite extensively, his close comrades have scarcely been studied.