On November 26, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Belarus summoned Ukrainian Ambassador Ihor Kyzym and presented him with a note of protest, expressing strong concerns over the series of “anti-Belarusian actions” held near Belarus’s embassy in Kyiv and its honorary consulate in Lviv. The Belarusian Foreign Affairs Ministry insists that those pickets in support of the protest movement against President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and his political repression pose a “direct threat to its functioning and the security of embassy employees and their families.” The Ministry demanded that Ukraine ensure “the security of the diplomatic mission at a proper level, consistent with the norms of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations” (Mfa.gov.by, November 26). Moreover, the Belarusian authorities stated that Minsk “expects those acts of vandalism to be properly investigated as well as properly assessed by Ukrainian law enforcement agencies” (Eurointegration.com.ua, November 26).
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, in its official response, called the summons and the note of protest an excessively “emotional and generally groundless reaction” of the Belarusian side. The Ministry in Kyiv highlighted that Ukraine fully respects the Vienna Convention and guarantees security to foreign diplomatic missions on its territory and expects that “the Belarusian side will also duly respect its international commitments and not allow violations of diplomatic immunity, such as groundless checks of a diplomatic vehicle of the Ukrainian ambassador to Belarus when crossing the state border.” Ukraine’s Foreign Affairs Ministry further reminded Minsk that during the 2013-2014 Revolution of Dignity in Ukraine, the Belarusian side allegedly did not react to provocations and unfriendly actions near the Ukrainian Embassy in Minsk (Eurointegration.com.ua, November 26).
Formally, this Belarusian diplomatic demarche was a reaction to the latest actions of Ukrainian and Belarusian activists. On November 20, a memorial cross to the “victims of Lukashenka’s regime” was erected near the Belarusian Embassy in Kyiv. The next day, Anton Lukashuk, a 23-year-old Belarusian, who was forced to leave his home country due to his collaboration with one of the banned Telegram channels in Belarus, knelt in front of the Belarusian Embassy for more than seven hours in a sign of solidarity with his repressed compatriots. According to the activist, the purpose of his action was to draw Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s attention to the human rights violations occurring in Belarus and to ask him to simplify administrative procedures governing the stay of Belarusian citizens in Ukraine (Nv.ua, November 22).
At the same time, however, the November 26 note of protest from Minsk coincided with Ukraine’s decision to support the European Union’s sanctions imposed against Belarusian officials involved in manipulating the presidential election results and carrying out repressions and unlawful arrests against peaceful protesters. On November 20, Ukraine, along with other countries, aligned itself with the EU’s restrictive measures targeting 40 representatives of Mr. Lukashenka’s regime (Gordonua.com, November 20). Even though Ukraine did not sign on to the EU’s targeted sanctions against Mr. Lukashenka himself and 14 other top Belarusian officials, the decision to back the EU’s overall punitive response provoked a strong reaction from Belarus’s president and his administration.
On November 20, during his meeting with the staff of the Belarusian agricultural machinery manufacturer Gomselmash, Mr. Lukashenka noted that according to the information provided by the State Security Committee (KGB) and Russian intelligence, the United States’ special services, “the most powerful in the world,” are currently purportedly working against Belarus and have created “a control center” in Warsaw and Kyiv to collect intelligence information and stir the Belarusian protests. According to Mr. Lukashenka, these special services, with the help of modern technology and the internet, are trying to “shake up the situation on the whole planet” (Belta.by, November 20).
Moreover, in response to Ukraine joining Europe’s anti-Belarusian sanctions, Minsk declared its intention to impose counter-sanctions on a number of Ukrainian officials. This was stated by Belarusian Foreign Affairs Minister Vladimir Makei during a joint press briefing with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, on November 26. Mr. Makei noted that the hostile move from the Ukrainian side represented “yet another non-independent decision of the neighboring country, which demonstrates the inconsistency of [Kyiv’s] policy” (Deutsche Welle—Ukrainian service, November 26). The following day, Mr. Lukashenka further amped up the rhetoric, accusing Ukraine of joining the fight against Belarus by becoming the center of information influence operations targeting the Belarusian people. He also claimed that Ukraine is constantly encouraging and staging mass protests in Belarus. According to Belarus’s embattled head of state, the information provided him by the KGB contained part of a conversation between the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine and Germany, Dmytro Kuleba and Heiko Maas, respectively. On the recording, the two politicians supposedly voiced the need for decisive action in the form of serious sanctions against Belarus in order to paralyze the country and its major businesses and industries (Belta.by, November 27).
Mr. Lukashenka’s latest attacks against Ukraine continued a pattern that persisted throughout November. But it is notable that the new wave of censure and even sharper rhetoric coincided with Mr. Lavrov’s trip to Minsk. During his visit, the Belarusian authorities did their utmost to convince Russia of their determination to preserve steady relations with the “older brother” (as repeatedly emphasized by Mr. Lukashenka) and to support anti-Ukrainian sentiments. Mr. Lukashenka also tried to prove that the protests in his country had nothing to do with innate desires of a segment of the Belarusian people but were being artificially staged from the outside. He called them “an ordinary rebellion” and named three goals of the so-called “foreign curators”: 1) returning Belarusian lands to Poland; 2) assembling a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) military force to realize the first objective; and 3) creating a “cordon sanitaire” between the EU and Russia (Pravda.com.ua, December 2).
All these steps demonstrate Mr. Lukashenka’s apparent belief that his current situation forces him to do what he can to foster support from Russia in resolving his domestic problems. And for now at least, criticism of Ukraine is deemed in Minsk to be a part of that strategy. As for Ukraine – which shares 1,239 kilometers of common border with Belarus – the potential strengthening of Russian influence over Minsk’s foreign policy presents a fundamental challenge to Ukrainian national security.
The article above is reprinted from Eurasia Daily Monitor with permission from its publisher, the Jamestown Foundation, www.jamestown.org.