More Russian Military Bases in Belarus?
More Russian military bases may appear in Belarus soon. According to naviny.by, a Belapan news agency web site an entire aviation division may soon be deployed. This report, however, referred only to an expert from the dubious Russian “Academy of Geopolitical Problems”.
Belarusian military expert Alexander Alesin predicted that “as ability of the national air forces for battle diminish, the air borders of Belarus will be increasingly guarded by Russian military pilots.”
Earlier, the opposition media negatively commented on the symbolic presence of Russian paratroopers at a military parade in Minsk on 3 July. Speculations and fears of the Russian military overtaking Belarus are also prominently featured in Belarusian politics. Often they help both the opposition and the government to achieve their other political aims.
Nobody Wants A Neutral Belarus
Belarus proclaimed its neutrality as early as 1990, although its current Constitution more cautiously states that it strives “to achieve neutrality”. Meanwhile, almost no major political group in the country is seriously commited to neutrality. The government openly promotes a military alliance with Russia. The opposition loudly protests against such policies but fails to commit to neutrality and instead campaigns for an alliance with the West.
Belarusian politicians, however, articulate and instrumentalise security issues also in other contexts. Both the Belarusian government and opposition use a politics of security – discussing seemingly unrelated issues in security terms – as a strategy to convince their respective foreign friends of their own importance. For years Lukashenka has been resorting to security-related rhetoric about “Belarusians always defending Moscow” to put pressure on the Russians each time they try to push the Belarusian ruler into a corner.
For their part, the Belarusian opposition emphasises that the regime endangers not only the future of Belarusian nation. Opponents of the current government try to prove that Lukashenka is a threat to regional security – on his own or as a stooge of Russia, and moreover, sometimes he takes to creating mischief far away – in the Middle East, Latin America, Africa. Later on appear the fake documents about Belarus supplying weapons to Pakistani terrorists or arming Sudan’s government killing Darfurians.
Does Anybody Fears Today’s Belarus?
Its security strategy failed in many cases. Gazprom repeatedly charged Belarus to the fullest extent possible for the sake of Russian gas, carefully ignoring its ally status. No serious Western expert considers Lukashenka a real threat to international security – for example as a source of weapons for Iran. Moreover, even in neighbouring countries opinions on this matter differ.
For instance, after in late April Belarus and Russia publicised the plans for a Russian air base in Belarus, the most harsh reaction came from Warsaw. Even some reputable politicians like former defence minister Onyszkiewicz talked there about danger of Belarusian and Russian military cooperation for Polish national security. Fortunately, other Polish experts sounded much more reserved.
Anna Maria Dyner in the June issue of the Bulletin of the Polish Institute of International Affairs warns, “at this stage, the development of Belarusian–Russian military cooperation cannot be treated as the beginning of an “arms race” in Central and Eastern Europe”. Moreover, she believes that, “Russian support to maintain the country’s military capabilities is necessary,” given the scarce funding Belarus gives to own military.
Lithuania even more cautionsly reacted to the news of a prospective Russian air base in Belarus. The Lithuanian defence minister Juozas Olekas, speaking to the BNS news agency in late April, said that he gave no particular importance to possible influence of a new Russian military base in Belarus on regional security. “For some time now we have been watching the cooperation between Belarus and Russia, and, it is possible, the time has come when their integration, especially in defence matters between these nations is increasing. One of its forms may be seen in the establishment of military bases on Belarusian territory,” he explained.
Risk of Proxy Confrontation of Russia and NATO in Belarus
Actually, the Belarusian government has little choice at the moment in matters of national security, but to ask Russians for help. As Yury Drakakhrust of the Radio of Free Europe argued, last year’s teddy-bears’ bombing conducted by Swedish pilots over Minsk “has demonstrated the weakness of Belarusian air defence – the Russians decided to strengthen it their own way (and have wanted to do so for a long time).” He believes that the Swedish action provided a psychological background for Russian decisions and had harmful consequences irrespective of intents.
Unfortunately, the security situation around Belarus concerns not only Belarus and surrounding states. It is becoming ever more a situation of bigger confrontation. In this confrontation Belarus – justly or not – is perceived as a proxy for Russia, while Minsk and Moscow consider surrounding states first of all as the NATO. The trend continues. Thus, Anna Maria Dyner of the Polish Institute of International Affairs proposes that Poland should not only keep modernising “its own defence capabilities, [and] pursue regional cooperation”, but also “work towards maintaining the involvement of NATO in the region”.
Belarus can become involved into geopolitical struggle between the West and Russia with all dangerous consequences thereof Read more
In this context, Belarus can become involved into the geopolitical struggle between the West and Russia with all dangerous consequences thereof. This security policy helps to freeze the existing situations of political suppression – not only because Lukashenka can use military confrontation with the West and historical reminiscences of, say, Second World War to mobilise ordinary Belarusians and distract them from issues of internal politics and economy. He would get for his confrontation with the West something more important – more help from Moscow. And that means his rule will stay.
Actually, the talks of security threats from Belarus look odd against a background of the current situation with Belarusian military. The Russian military delegation which visited Belarus in June found most of the two dozens Soviet-era Belarusian military airfields deactivated and unsuitable for use. The situation with arms is not much better. Belarus only now completed modernisation of its air defence with the S-300, and it apparently gave up its loudly-discussed plans to buy Russian-made Iskander tactical missile systems.
It is n o wonder that the national defence budget this year is just $686.4 million. It equals to 1.2% of GDP, this number did not change significantly in last decade, and is one of the lowest levels among post-Soviet states far below the level of defence budgets in the NATO states. It failed to prevent Anatoli Paulau of the United Civic Party a couple of years ago from publicly criticising military spending as hypertrophied on the grounds that on every serviceman Belarus spends ten times more money than on a teacher. The comparison proves nothing as soldiers and teachers cost very differently in every country.
At the same time the neighboring countries embarked on ambitious programmes of military reorganisation and modernisation inside NATO. Neighbour states and wider Western community shall recognise security concerns of Belarus. It would be wrong to see the current Belarusian state as a mere marionette of Russia.
On the other hand, security-related actions – e.g., harsh reactions to ordinary military exercises in Belarus or promotion democracy flights over Belarusian territory – may cause more extensive Russian military presence in Belarus. Such actions present a real danger for gradual transformation of the country and its integration in the region. In fact, Belarus does not threaten anybody in the region or beyond it. Responsible Western politicians and media should avoid helping the Belarusian regime by overplaying military issues.
Fine for Foreign Aid, Ecotourism, Official Blacklist – Civil Society Digest
Some 300 delegates gathered in Minsk for the Sixth Congress of Belarusians of the World. Fond of Ideas explains why business should be socially responsible.
New opportunities for environmental education await Belarusians. Among them, BEROC invites young Belarusians to participate in a student’s school on the economy and economic research.
The state-run newspaper “Respublika” published a list of extremist publications and events that endanger the Belarusian state.
Civil Society Events
Belarusian expatriates holding congress in Minsk. Some 300 delegates gathered in Minsk for the Sixth Congress of Belarusians of the World that held on July 23-24, in Minsk. Organised by the Batskaushchyna World Association of Belarusians, the event was attended by expatriates living in 20 countries. The Congress focused on the state of the Belarusian people amid globalisation. Elena Makouskaya re-elected head of the organisation.
New concept paper on transportation. Belarusian Union of Transport (BUT) made the first practical steps towards the formation of the modern Belarusian legislation in the area of transportation. The BUT experts have prepared a concept paper on the development of an integrated mobility based on the harmonization of the legislation of Belarus and the European Union. This paper is the result of a cooperation between BUT and the Office for a Democratic Belarus (ODB) and, later on, with the Office of the European Expertise and Communications.
34mag launches “Bicycle” project. An interactive map for cyclists for all of Belarus answers questions such as where it’s possible to rent a bike, repair it, etc. The project aims to collect all bicycle related spots in one place and thus to make Belarus a truly bike-friendly country. “Bicycle” is an interactive map, so it provides the ability to add valuable points to all users.
Infographic from AMPby. Alternative Youth Platform has developed an infographic called “Belarusian youth in numbers” dedicated to Youth Day, which is celebrated annually on 30 June. In particular, about 2,300,000 Belarusians are in the age range of 14-31; 2,829 long-distance trains are needed if all the young people want to leave Belarus; 11,455 isolsation rooms in the detention faciility Akrestino are needed to put all youth to prison.
Let’s Make it Better! On 16 July representatives of 15 NGOs from Minsk, Gomel, Vitebsk, and other cities came together in Minsk to discuss ideas they want to implement within the “Let’s Make it Better!” campaign aimed to increase the role and impact of social activities in Belarus. The campaign’s initiator is the Executive Bureau of the Assembly of NGOs. The majority of the local campaigns of the Let’s “Make it Better!” campaign are to be held in August-September 2013.
Belarusian poems in trolleybuses. Belarusian poems have been placed in 90 trolleys in Mogilev. The project will last until the end of the year, while Mogilev has the status of the cultural capital of Belarus and the CIS. The organisers managed to implement the project which was one of the winners of the project fair, held by the campaign “Budzma!” and Mogilev city executive committee.
“Educational Breakfast” launched a series of business breakfasts. On 16 July Fond of Ideas held its first business breakfast within a series «Food for ideas». The general theme of the breakfasts is the development of the culture of internal and external corporate responsibility among Belarusian business circles. The first business breakfasts covered the issues of training a company’s own employees. Participants of the business breakfasts were managers and top managers of large Belarusian companies.
BEROC Student School. Belarusian Economic Research and Education Center (BEROC) in co-operation with the British Embassy in Belarus calls for students to participate in the 3rd Student School on a modern economy and economic research. The School will be held in Minsk on Saturdays, from 14 September 14 to 21 December 2013. The working language is English; participation is free.
Roundtable on certification in non-formal education. BEL.BIZ held a round-table “Non-formal education: certificates and certification,” which covered the issues of certification for non-formal trainings. The event was attended by experts of commercial and non-profit service providers, including IPM, Marketing.by, MTBank, the Association for Life Long Education, etc. The round-table became the first event to precede the Global Entrepreneurship Week in Belarus, which will take place from 18-24 November.
Roadmap for joining the Bologna Process. On 17 July in Minsk, a group of Belarusian experts and civil society activists called the Public Bologna Committee unveiled a roadmap for joining the Bologna Process, which is aimed at creating a European Higher Education Area. The White Book contains a series of amendments to Belarus’ Education Code that would supposedly bring Belarus closer to the principles and values of the Bologna Process.
Trainings on eco-tourism strategic planning. On 23-31 July the USAID LEED Project implemented by UNDP conducts four training sessions to improve the skills of local partners. These partners are located in the seventeen tourism destinations within Hrodna and Brest regions (representatives of community-based organizations, local authorities, and business) and will focus on the development of ecotourism strategies.
School of Environmental Activism. On 8-14 July the second stage of the School of Environmental Activism took place in the Astravets district of the Hrodna region. The participants learned about environmental initiatives in Belarus, listened to foreign experts, took part in workshops. The School is being implemented by the Green Alliance and designed to prepare people ready for action and self-organisation, able to fight for the preservation of wetlands and parks, and to promote environmentally friendly lifestyle.
GEF Small Grants Programme invites civil society organisations to take part in the project “Strengthening environmental governance through the development of non-governmental organisations.” The project is aimed at promoting sustainable development and improving the environment on the basis of more effective CSO participation in environmental governance. The maximum project amount shall not exceed 50,000 USD. Application deadline is 11 August 2013.
Consultations with civil society. The UN Human Rights Council Special Rapporteur on Belarus, Miklos Haraszti, held a number of consultations with representatives of Belarusian civil society. The consultations took place on 11-14 July in Vilnius, as Haraszti did not get an invitation from official Minsk that would allow him to visit Belarus.
Interaction between State and Civil Society
Official blacklist. Belarusian state-run newspaper “Respublika” published an updated “National list of extremist materials” which contains “Belarus Press Photo 2011” album and a number of CDs, books and publications, for example, the documentary “A Lesson in the Belarusian language” and the concert “Solidarity with Belarus” in Warsaw (2006).
Cancelled sealing house in Uruchcha to be built. Minsk City Council reversed its previous decision that it made last year to cancel the construction of one of the houses on Shugaeva street in the Minsk district of Uruchcha. The initiative “European Perspective” is trying to look into the situation and help citizens to protect their rights. Meanwhile the locals recorded a video appeal to Lukashenka.
Fine for getting foreign aid. On 12 June Tatjana Zialko, chairman of the initiative of Belarusian pensioners “Our Generation” was fined for getting foreign aid with the aim of “regime change”. In March 2013, she was detained with about 1,500 euro while leaving the Slovak Embassy in Minsk.
Iryna Halip vacated. On 19 July Minsk Partizan District Court has vacated the journalist’s sentence for taking part in 19 December 2010 ‘mass riots’ in Minsk. Iryna Halip, journalist of Novaya Gazeta, ex-presidential candidate Andrei Sannikau’s wife, had lived under constant police supervision since 3 May 2011.
Belarus Digest prepared this overview on the basis of materials provided by Pact. This digest attempts to give a richer picture of the recent political and civil society events in Belarus. It often goes beyond the hot stories already available in English-language media.