Trump’s election, military cooperation with the US, comments on KEF 2016 – digest of Belarusian analytics
In November Belarus analysts focused on implications of Donald Trump's election for Belarus-US relations, ways to reform Belarusian economy discussed at Kastryčnicki Economic Forum, as well as developments in human rights situation.
Dzianis Meĺjancoŭ believes that after the election of the US president Donald Trump the Belarusian-American relations will develop in the same direction while, Andrej Jahoraŭ thinks that Donald Trump may initiate a review of the entire package of sanctions previously imposed by the US.
BISS presents a regular monitoring, which explores Belarus’s foreign policy in the five key dimensions. The monthly monitoring of Belarus Security Blog argues that the agreement on US-Belarusian cooperation in the military sphere is rather a political and symbolic act.
Analysing the Kastryčnicki Ekanamičny Forum 2016 Siarhiej Čaly states that in 2011 the public was ahead of authorities, while now it's clear that the government is ahead of society.
This and more in the new edition of digest of Belarusian analytics.
US presidential elections and Belarus
There will not be radical change in US foreign policy – Dzianis Meĺjancoŭ, a senior analyst of the Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies (BISS) believes that after the election of the US president Donald Trump, the Belarusian-American relations will develop in the same direction as the recent two years. Belarus is far from the top list of US interests, and a process of normalisation will be gradual.
Trump winning the US presidential elections will change nothing for Belarus – Donald Trump may initiate a review of the entire package of sanctions previously imposed by the US, but there will be no automatic lifting of sanctions against Belarus. How will the US foreign policy change after the billionaire populist winning the office, considers Andrej Jahoraŭ, the Director of the Centre for European Transformation.
Belarus foreign policy index #34 (September-October 2016) – BISS presents a regular monitoring, which explores Belarus’s foreign policy in the five key dimensions. In September-October, the tension in relations with Russia was not removed that expressed in the high negative index of relationship, which was not observed for a long time. In relations with the West and the EU in particular, the experts observe a gradual positive dynamics after the parliamentary elections.
National defense and security. October 2016 – According to the monthly monitoring of Belarus Security Blog, the agreement on US-Belarusian cooperation in the military sphere is rather a political and symbolic act. The level of trust between the parties is obviously not enough for any significant practical cooperation. The goal of Minsk remains unchanged: the preservation of the existing political regime intact.
Strategic assessment: Belarus weathers economic doldrums as rapprochement with West proceeds – Grigory Ioffe considers the recent developments in Belarus under five major themes: economic decline, parliamentary elections, uneasy relations with Russia; rapprochement with the West; and domestic “liberalisation.” The fifth trend clearly accompanies Belarus’s warming relations with the West, and is seemingly dependent upon it.
Civil society and human rights
Belarus civil society is trying to find a comfort zone – journalist Paŭliuk Bykoŭski notes that the last presidential (2015) and parliamentary (2016) elections show that for the first time CSOs were not involved in the mobilisation campaign or boycott. The recent trend is that many pro-democracy organisations distance themselves from politics. For an external observer, the situation in the Belarusian civil society looks frozen for decades.
Human rights situation in Belarus: October 2016 – According to the monthly monitoring of the Human Rights Centre Viasna, October was not marked by any significant changes that could contribute to qualitative changes in the human rights situation. Namely, Viasna welcomes the very fact of the adoption of a National interagency action plan on human rights but notes that the country’s human rights community was not properly invited to discuss it.
Human rights activity: unforeseen traps – Liudmila Hraznova, human rights activist talks about a visible differentiation of the Belarusian human rights community. There are two approaches: a tougher one based on western standards, and a more moderate – from the point of view of internal situation of a post-totalitarian state of the country. These two approaches have the same importance, according to Hraznova.
Kastryčnicki Economic Forum 2016
Trends in the development of small and medium business in Belarus. Small and medium businesses are not able to solve the problem of unemployment which is caused by restructuring of state-owned enterprises Read more
Proven ways do not work and will not work. It is time to "turn on the brain." TUT.by economic observer, Aliaksandr Abuchovič analysing the Kastryčnicki Ekanamičny Forum, KEF 2016 notes that in contrast to previous years, when foreign mentors strongly pushed Belarus for reforms, this year representatives of almost all international organisations urged not to hurry and stressed that each country has its own path of reforms.
Society should know their interests and formulate a request for reforms. In a regular TUT.by program Economy in Simple Words economist Siarhiej Čaly sums up the results of Kastryčnicky Ekanamičny Forum, KEF 2016, held on November 3-4 in Minsk. In 2011 it was obvious that the public was ahead of authorities, but now it's clear that the government is ahead of society – this is the key finding of KEF-2016 from Siarhiej Čaly.
Trends in the development of small and medium business in Belarus. The dynamics of macroeconomic indicators of small and medium businesses in recent years shows the reduction of its role in the economy of Belarus. This is largely predetermined by falling incomes, which indicate the focus of small and medium businesses on the demand of households. Most companies focus on saving their business and optimising costs, including cuts on employees.
Elements of neutrality in Belarusian foreign policy and national security policy. The study identifies the main elements and manifestations of neutrality in the Belarusian foreign policy and national security policy Read more
These trends prove that small and medium businesses are not able to solve the problem of unemployment during the crisis which is caused by restructuring of state-owned enterprises. Therefore, the government should first create the environment conducive to the development of the private sector.
Elements of neutrality in Belarusian foreign policy and national security policy. This study examines the three following questions. Firstly, the authors examine the origins and development of the Belarusian neutrality. Secondly, the study identifies the main elements and manifestations of neutrality in the Belarusian foreign policy and national security policy.
At the same time, the authors compared this model of neutrality with other, especially the Finnish one (after WWII) as far as its context and certain conceptual traits are concerned. Third, the study assesses the importance of neutrality for the consolidation of the Belarusian statehood, as well as the prospects and problems of its realisation.
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.
Lessons from Montenegro: is a coup possible in Belarus?
On 6 November 2016 Milivoje Katnich, the Chief Special Prosecutor of Montenegro, gave a statement regarding the failed coup attempt in Podgorica during the Parliamentary elections on 16 October 2016.
According to him, several groups of Russian and Russian-backed Serbian nationalists were behind the coup; they were hoping to prevent Montenegro from joining NATO and the EU.
The fact that the Kremlin was able to plan such an operation in Montenegro leaves no doubts as to its capabilities to launch a similar plot in Belarus. Analysing last year's joint Belarusian and Russian military exercises, which were developed by the Russian General Staff, also arouses suspicions.
The case of Montenegro
Several groups of Russian and Serbian nationalists had planned to open fire on the pro-Russian opposition rally wearing Montenegrin police uniforms. The rally took place in front of the Parliament to protest against Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic. This ploy was intended to provoke massive bloodshed by assaulting the protesters near the Parliament. The plan also included the elimination of the prime minister, calling to mind the situation in Kiev during Maidan in February 2014.
Fortunately, Montenegrin and Serbian security services were able to prevent the coup attempt and arrest several participants. Meanwhile, Belgrade quietly deported several Russians suspected of coordinating the coup after Nikolai Patrushev, the Head of the Russian Security Council, flew to Belgrade on 26 October 2016 in an apparent attempt to diffuse the scandal and evacuate his compatriots.
According to officials in Podgorica, the sabotage groups wanted to destabilise the political situation in the country and prevent Montenegro from further integrating with the EU and NATO. It is clear that Montenegro, along with other countries in the Balkan region aspiring to draw closer to the EU and NATO, are highly at risk of destabilisation.
The Kremlin’s networks in Serbia and Belarus
According to our Serbian sources, pro-Russian forces are carrying out subversive activities in Serbia as well. Unfortunately, it seems that Belarusians are also involved in these plots.
Vencislav Buyich, director of the SEAS Foundation (Belgrade), stated in an interview that he had met with Sergey Lushch, a representative of the pro-Kremlin organisation “Rus molodaya” (Minsk), in Belgrade in Spring 2016. The latter apparently spoke quite openly about his plans to destabilise Serbia.
Specifically, Sergey Lushch spoke of the need to have his own people in every Serbian city with a population of over 20,000 people. The main task of these people and organisations would be to gain the trust of the locals, mostly through civic activities. These activists ought never to outwardly demonstrate their pro-Russian orientation, nor should they speak out publicly against pro-Western developments in the country.
Without a doubt, pro-Kremlin organisations are creating their own network of “sleeping agents" Read more
Without a doubt, pro-Kremlin organisations are creating their own network of “sleeping agents". According to Sergei Lushch, at any given moment they could begin anti-Western uprisings in several countries. Unfortunately, the Kremlin has already proved the efficacy of this technique in Ukraine.
“Rus molodaya” is not a well-known or popular NGO in Belarus. Nevertheless, it does enjoy the support of the Russian Embassy in Minsk as well as “Rossotrudnichestvo", the Russian Federal Agency responsible for foreign "civilian aid". Certain Belarusian officials with explicitly pro-Kremlin views participate frequently in their events, one example is Vadzim Hihin, former chief editor of the magazine Belaruskaja Dumka, a mouthpiece of the Presidential Administration.
The fact that the Kremlin has managed to involve Belarusians in destabilising activities in Serbia is deeply worrying. This proves that the Kremlin has been working to create a network of "agents" in Belarus as well. Several pro-Russian groups, such as the Cossacks and Orthodox organisations, have indeed become more active since the start of the Ukraine-Russia conflict.
The plan for Belarus
Unfortunately, like other post-Soviet states, Belarus is a hostage to the Kremlin's perception of international relations as a zero-sum game. It is clear from statements by Aliaksandr Lukashenka that the Belarusian leadership has no intention of normalising relations with the West at the expense of its strategic obligations to Russia or Eurasian integration. Despite this fact, the Kremlin persists in treating any hint of normalisation between the West and Belarus as a threat to its influence.
The Kremlin has also considered the possibility of deploying troops to “stabilise the situation and restore the constitutional order” in Belarus Read more
Some evidence points to the fact that Moscow has already developed a contingency plan for Belarus should it lose influence there. Last year, Belarusian and Russian joint military drills (“Interaction – 2015” and “Slavonic brotherhood – 2015”) demonstrated that Russia is preparing for a possible destabilisation of the military-political situation in Belarus. The Kremlin has also considered the possibility of deploying troops to “stabilise the situation and restore the constitutional order” in Belarus.
According to the scenario of these military drills, which were developed by the Russian General Staff, illegal irregular armed groups (far right radicals) destabilise the military and political situation in Belarus. They practise capturing critical state and military facilities, eliminating political and military leadership, carrying out terrorist attacks, and provoking protests.
In the scenario, the Belarusian government is unable to stabilise the situation on its own and requests military help from the Kremlin. Moscow decides to send troops in to conduct a joint anti-terrorist operation, prevent unrest, and “restore constitutional order”. Incidentally, the 76th Air Assault Division of the Russian Armed Forces and recently deployed mechanised brigades, which are stationed close to the Belarusian border, are very well suited for such hypothetical anti-terrorist operations.
Obviously, such a scenario is a clear exaggeration of the real internal and external situation in Belarus. Such drills, along with a Kremlin-backed media campaign attempting to convey the possibility of Belarus becoming a “russophobic” state, are seemingly intended to prepare the Russian population for a possible crisis with Belarus. Propaganda featuring similar rhetoric could also be seen before and during the conflict between Russia and Ukraine.
Such assessments by military and civilian analysts illustrate the Kremlin’s willingness to destabilise Belarus and take advantage of the ensuing disorder in order to project its military power, rather than improving the security situation.
The Montenegrin case also demonstrates how easily the Kremlin can initiate a coup with the help of sabotage groups Read more
The Montenegrin case also demonstrates how easily the Kremlin can initiate a coup with the help of sabotage groups (potentially even disguised as Belarusian nationalists) and subversive tactics. Given the Kremlin's influence on Belarusian security services, the bureaucracy apparatus, and even certain NGOs and oppositional groups, it could certainly pull off such a coup in Belarus.
Consequences and implications
Without doubt, the ultimate goal of such destabilisation and military power projection would be a regime change resulting in fully pro-Kremlin political leadership in Minsk. Moscow needs to be sure that it has full access to the territory of Belarus in the case of a large-scale military conflict with NATO.
Theoretically, Moscow intends to transform Belarus into a Cold War outpost in order to generate conventional and hybrid threats to NATO member states and Ukraine. This remains difficult to accomplish as long as the Belarusian state is strong and Aliaksandr Lukashenka attempts to maintain neutrality by refusing to host Russian military bases on Belarusian territory.
Belarus needs to expect increasing pressure from the Kremlin, which wants to gain more political and military control in the near future. However, if Aliaksandr Lukashenka resists such pressure, a coup remains a highly likely scenario in Belarus-Russia relations.
The upcoming meeting between Aliaksandr Lukashenka and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in the coming month will be indicative of further developments. Belarus Digest will be monitoring them closely.
Arseni is the Director of the Centre for Strategic and Foreign Policy Studies based in Minsk and military officer in reserve of the Belarusian Armed Forces.