Belarus and Ukraine Football Fans Unite against Putin
On 9 October, during a Belarus-Ukraine qualifying match to Euro 2016, Ukrainian and Belarusian fans demonstrated an unprecedented level of solidarity. They shouted the national slogans of both countries and chanted an infamous anti-Putin song.
Although the police detained around two dozen fans before and after the game, their response was rather restrained. This light punishment" could be a signal to the Kremlin that Belarus does not support its imperialist politics in the post-Soviet space.
Belarus' security services see the hardcore fans, known as ultras, as a threat to society, as during the Ukraine crisis they proved to be a formidable protest force. But because of the decentralised nature of their activity, which is mostly non-political and popular among a younger crowd, the ultras are hard to control. This may play into Lukashenka's hands, as they may be used by the regime in its games with Russia.
Preemptive Measures of Police
A week before the match Belarusian fans announced that they would be making a show of solidarity with Ukrainians. They made stickers and banners with national Belarusian and Ukrainian symbols, saying “Brothers Forever” and “Together Forever”.
The Belarusian security services, of course, were preparing for the possible political implications that the game could carry. On match day, Ukrainian sport and fan web sites reported that Belarusian border guards denied several dozen Ukrainian fans entrance into the country because they cited the football match as the aim of their visit.
Belarusian ultras also reported the police detaining known fans at home and at work. Police told them that they had to sign some papers at the police station, and upon their arrival, they were sentenced up to 10 days in custody. Many were arrested on their way from Minsk to the match, which took place in Barysaŭ, a town not far from Minsk.
Belarus and Ukraine – Together Forever
This game, as many commentators noted afterwards, was made by the fans, not by the football teams. Ukrainians brought an atmosphere of freedom to Belarus, where security services restrict any unauthorised activity and carefully control the ultras. This seems to be the first time that the fans of any two countries displayed such a high degree of solidarity over the whole course of history of football in Belarus.
Taking turns, the Belarus and Ukraine fan sectors shouted famous national slogans from both countries: “Slava Ukraini-Heroyam Slava!” (Glory to Ukraine – Glory to the Heroes!) and “Žyvie Belaruś!” (Long Live Belarus!).
The fans also jointly sang the famous obscene chant about Putin. Belarusian fans sang patriotic songs in the Belarusian language. The stadium was indeed filled with an unbridled spirit of enthusiasm as many visitors would go on to state later.
Interestingly, the match became widely popular in Ukraine thanks to the massive support for Ukraine displayed by the Belarusian fans. For instance, the web site censor.net had 130,000 views for its piece on the phenomenon just in the first night following the game.
However, the captain of Belarusian team Cimafiej Kalačoŭ in an interview with Euroradio said that he regards the behaviour of fans improper. “Shouting political slogans was wrong. And anti-Russian songs were really stupid”, Kalačoŭ said.
He also accused the Belarusian fans of being somewhat uncultured because, in his opinion, they provided their home team with weak support. His claims stirred up a wave of anger among fans on the Internet, as most of them were enthralled with the actions of the fans – and disappointed with the team.
Regarding the game itself, Belarus lost 2:0, but neither Ukrainian nor Belarusian fans were satisfied with their teams and wrote the game off.
Authorities Dole Out Light Punishment
Such unprecedented action from the fans could not, of course, go unpunished. The Minsk regional police office reported detaining 41 fans, 14 of them being Ukrainian citizens, accusing them of 'hooliganism' and being drunk in public.
In reality, some of them simply had national symbols on clothes or banners, which is more than enough reason for the Belarusian police to detain them. Fans themselves claimed that around 130 people had been detained. A majority of those who were detained were then quickly released.
One Ukrainian was accused of possessing a swastika and received 10 days in prison, while a few others received 5 days for using foul language. For their troubles, the Belarusians got US$60 fines.
However, a Dynamo Kyiv Ultras representative going by the name of Vitali claimed in an interview to Football.ua that the Minsk police transferred six Ukrainians to Homiel, a city near the Ukrainian border, where local police took them outside of the city limits and beat them.
On 11 October, a Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman reported that all of the detained Ukrainians had been released and were already home. He said president Poroshenko personally dealt with securing their release.
The authorities, it would appear, gave out the most minimal punishment possible for such a massive anti-Putin action. Although the police anticipated it and took measures in advance, in the end, they largely acted with restraint. The punishment served out was more of a formality, a reminder that the authorities are in control. Many senior officials in Belarus, including the president, may have rather enjoyed the anti-Putin chants.
Solidarity of Ultras
The Belarusian police view the ultras as potentially dangerous groups and try their best to control them. They are known to apply overly restrictive regulations on their activities, and detentions are a widespread practise during sporting events. One should hardly be surprised to find out that Belarusian ultras are not the biggest fans of Aliaksandr Lukashenka's repressive regime.
Many Belarusian ultras, much like other ultras, hold right-wing views and do not shy away from promoting blatantly racist views. At the same time, they are one of very few groups engaged in reviving national identity and employing the Belarusian language, national symbols and historical episodes that have been rejected by the state's official ideology.
Being nationalists, and therefore rejecting the imperialist ideas of Russia, Belarusian ultras were themselves on the side of Ukraine when the whole crisis erupted. Currently, they present perhaps the only social group that regularly tries to express its position on the Ukrainian conflict publicly.
On the one hand, this is inconvenient for Lukashenka, as he tries to extract money from the Russian budget, all while maintaining his official disagreement with Russian policy towards Ukraine.
On the other, this kind of behaviour by fans may actually be quite useful for him, as it demonstrates to Putin that Belarusian society does not support his imperialist behaviour — a society that democratically elected Lukashenka enjoys the support of.
Belarus OKs European Integration of Moldova, Offers to Promote China in Europe – Belarus Foreign Policy Digest
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenka, unlike his Russian counterpart, sees no immediate problems for Belarus in Moldova's association with Europe. However, he is dissatisfied with the existing level of trade and investments in Belarus' relations with most CIS countries.
Belarus succeeded in obtaining a $24m grant from China. In exchange, the Chinese delegation got a promise of Minsk's help in increasing China's influence in Europe.
Lukashenka Talks to CIS Leaders
On 24 and 25 September, the Belarusian leader paid an official visit to Moldova. Lukashenka and his counterpart Nicolae Timofti focused on trade and economic relations. Belarus is already implementing or developing several knockdown assembly projects for agricultural machinery and public transport vehicles in Moldova.
Lukashenka reassured the Moldovan public that the signing and ratification of the association agreement between the EU and Moldova would not affect the latter's relations with Belarus: "Don't dramatise … We need to create new forms and look for new ways of cooperation".
On 6 October, Lukashenka received Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov. This move meant to emphasise the importance Belarus attaches to its relations with this fast-developing partner.
The Belarusian leader expressed his dissatisfaction with the current volume of bilateral trade: "For us to have the turnover of $300m or even $500m – it is embarrassing even to talk about it". Again, Lukashenka has demonstrated his eagerness to set up a knockdown assembly in Azerbaijan counting on local financing of such projects.
Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov visited Minsk on 8 October. Two international outcasts seem to go alone rather well. They signed 14 cooperation agreements in different areas.
Turkmenistan has taken serious interest in development of cooperation in academic research and education. The leading project in the economic area is the construction by Belarusian companies of the potash mining and processing facility in Garlyk.
Finally, Lukashenka met with Uzbekistani President Islam Karimov on the sidelines of the CIS summit in Minsk. The official communiqué on the meeting's results is much less enthusiastic than the reports on similar Lukashenka's encounters with his CIS counterparts.
Islam Karimov even mentioned "many instances of interpretations and speculations in mass media" about alleged contradictions in relations between two countries. This comment served more to confirm these speculations rather than to refute them.
Eurasian Integration Meetings in Minsk
On 10 October, Belarus hosted the summits of three post-Soviet integration structures – the CIS, Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) and Eurasian Economic Community.
The only CIS head of state missing from this gathering was Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. The Ukrainian authorities have yet to finalise their position on the country's membership in the CIS. Besides, Ukraine cannot simply ignore the unwillingness of most CIS 'brothers' to help it in stopping Russia's encroachment on Ukraine's territorial integrity.
Alexander Lukashenka indirectly acknowledged this situation: "It is probably unacceptable that the burning issues that relate to Ukraine are being dealt with somewhere far way, in Berlin or Milan". He spoke in favour of paying more attention to security in the framework of the CIS.
The CIS summit proved to be another routine event. It ended with adoption of 15 documents dealing with humanitarian, law enforcement and other issues. The members of the EAEU also signed an agreement on Armenia's accession to this Union.
Expanding Ties with Latin America
The Belarusian foreign ministry actively seeks to secure a good footing in Latin America. In June, Vladimir Makei visited Cuba, Ecuador and Nicaragua. In September, he met with his counterparts from the last two countries in New York on the sidelines of the UNGA.
Meanwhile, one of his deputies, Alexander Guryanov, made a working tour of Latin America on 24 September – 1 October. In Argentina, Uruguay, Chili and Peru, he met with his counterparts in the foreign ministries as well as with local business leaders and regional governors. The trade and economic cooperation was a dominant topic of most meetings. Alexander Guryanov promoted Belarusian agricultural machinery and heavy duty lorries.
Belarus is actively using Venezuela as a showroom of successful cooperation. In September, Ecuadorian Minister of Industry Richard Espinosa Guzmán visited Belarusian-built plants in Venezuela. He also met there with Belarusian Deputy Minister of Industry Hienadz Svidzierski. The officials discussed prospects for implementing similar projects in Ecuador.
In the same context, Belarus and Columbia held consultations in Minsk on 29 September.
The Belarusian diplomats are doing their best to follow direct instructions of their president. Mr Lukashenka sees great potential in the region's markets, especially after the success in Venezuela.
Maintaining Momentum with Europe
On 29 September – 1 October, Deputy Foreign Minister Alena Kupchyna visited Brussels for the third round of consultations on modernisation. The parties focused on the issues of transports, energy and environment. Kupchyna seized this opportunity to discuss pressing issues of political relations between Belarus and the EU with some top EU officials.
On 8 October, Belarus and Hungary hold the fifth meeting of the Intergovernmental Commission on Economic Cooperation and a business forum in Minsk. László Szabó, State Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, led the Hungarian delegation there.
While the Commission discussed many trade and economic issues, they made an emphasis on development of cooperation in the banking sector. Two major Belarusian banks, Belarusbank and Belagroprombank, signed cooperation agreements with the Hungarian Eximbank.
Belarus and Hungary enjoy strong working relations over several recent years. Hungary's conservative government sympathises with strongmen like Putin and Lukashenka.
Aliaksandr Khainouski, Belarusian ambassador to Hungary, maintains active dialogue with the country's central and local authorities on a wide range of issues. It also helps a lot that Alena Kupchyna, the current Deputy Foreign Minister in charge of relations with Europe, was Khainouski's immediate predecessor in Budapest.
During recent weeks, Belarus also held consular consultations with Croatia and foreign policy consultations with Romania.
China Gives Impetus to the Industrial Park
On 26 September, a Chinese delegation led by Zhang Gaoli, China's Vice Prime Minister, visited Minsk and met with Alexander Lukashenka.
The top-ranking Chinese official came to Minsk to give an impetus to the project of the China – Belarus Industrial Park. The Park is the most ambitious venture in Sino – Belarusian relations and the largest joint project for Belarus.
The visit's immediate result has been a grant of RMB 150m ($24m) for electrification of the Park. China will issue this non-repayable aid under an intergovernmental agreement signed in Minsk.
During the meeting, Alexander Lukashenka was very enthusiastic about the relations with China. He described Mr Zhang's visit as a "very opportune" one and invited China to invest more in Belarus.
In exchange, Alexander Lukashenka promised to "help to increase China's influence in Europe". It is doubtful that China makes much use of Belarus' services for this matter.