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Why should Ukraine need to strain relations with Belarus?

Pavel Sharoyko after being arrested. Footage of the Belarusian state TV

Minsk weighs an option to ban some Ukrainian politicians from Belarus over their insulting statements.

Actions by some Ukrainian politicians have angered even Alexander Lukashenko, who may prompt rather serious measures, up to banning from entering the territory of Belarus those Ukrainian politicians who ignore diplomatic ethics and protocols.

Do they need a scandal right now?

According to Lukashenko, during his meeting with Petro Poroshenko in the UAE earlier this November, they agreed not to make public the details of Ukrainian Radio correspondent Pavel Sharoyko’s detention. “They went on a rampage. All appeared in mass media. What should I do? I cancelled my decision and said to publishing some facts in mass media so that people see that we do not aggravate the situation in the relations with Ukraine,” Lukashenko said.

Some high-ranking Ukrainian politicians took advantage of Sharoyko’s detention to slam the leadership of Belarus and didn’t mince their words.

The first attempts to strain the Ukrainian-Belarusian relations were made in September 2017. The motive was the West 2017 Belarusian-Russian joint drills conducted on September 14-20, 2017. I’d like to emphasize that it was just a motive, not a reason, as the West drills have been held since 2009. Besides, exercises have been held with Russia and within the frames of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) during the recent years. For instance, Unbreakable Brotherhood 2016 exercises of the CSTO collective peacekeeping forces was held in Brest region involving all the six member-countries of the Organization.

What made Ukrainian politicians become so excited with the West 2017 drills? It seems that some officials in Kiev simply seek an occasion for a scandal. Since they need it right now, they grasp at any straw. Note that the president adopts the decision to hold exercises, and Belarus has a sovereign right to allow military contingent of other countries in its territory.

Back to Sharoyko’s case, it should be noted that there were certain inconsistencies between the public rhetoric and the real developments. No one casts any doubts that Belarus KGB officers detained the Ukrainian Radio journalist on October 25. Why did Ukrainian politicians start blaming the leadership of Belarus three weeks later, starting November 15? Maybe, they have whipped up the scandal now just because they need certain strain the relations with Belarus. Sharoyko’s arrest was just a good occasion…

Overreaction

Proceeding from the single incident with the Ukrainian journalist, Supreme Rada Speaker Andriy Parubiy publicly stated that Belarus is “under influence of Russia.” “Of course, that influence leaves its mark. The influence of the Kremlin and Putin on Belarus is growing and resulting in the unfriendly actions by Belarusian leaders with regard to Ukraine. I am sure that Ukraine should exert efforts to support Belarus and democratic processes inside that country. I have no doubts that Belarus will be the next country after Ukraine to break the relations with Russia and take a pro-European stance,” Parubiy said.

“Lukashenko’s assurances of friendship with the Ukrainian people worth nothing, as long as our citizens regularly disappear in Belarus. At first, it was P. Grib, now, special correspondent of Ukrainian Radio P. Sharoyko. Such actions violate all the agreements and make friendship statement hypocritical! Does Putin decide everything there?” Vyacheslav Kirilenko, Ukraine’s deputy prime minister, said in a tweet on November 17. By that time, Ukraine’s government was officially informed about the arrest of its citizen on suspicion of creating a spy network in the territory of our country.

“Putin has taken Lukashenko’s regime under his control – Ukraine must respond with sanctions to another incident with kidnapping of a Ukrainian in Minsk. Breach of relations is the only possible response,” said Yuri Butusov, one of the mouthpieces of Ukraine’s pro-governmental propaganda.

From the diplomatic point of view such statements by high-ranking officials and politicians – Parubiy, Kirilenko, Gerashchenko – are interference into the domestic affairs and disrespect towards sovereignty of Belarus. Any self-respecting country should respond to such statements adequately.

On November 14, at the UN General Assembly, Belarus voted against Ukraine’s draft resolution on human rights violations in Crimea prompting absurd condemnation by Ukraine’s officials. For instance, Irina Gerashchenko, First Deputy Chairperson of the Ukrainian Supreme Rada and one of the Ukrainian representatives in the Contact Group, wrote a Facebook post slamming Belarus for “making a stub in the back of Ukraine.” Unlike Parubiy and Kirilenko, Gerashchenko is a member of the Tri-partite Contact Group in Minsk. Noteworthy that all the other representatives of Ukraine – Leonid Kuchma, Yevgeny Marchuk and others – refrained from insulting statements not to question their participation in the Contact Group.

Asymmetric response

Top officials in Belarus have chosen “nonlinear methods” of responding to insults and attempted interference into domestic affairs of their country. Persons familiar with the situation say the officials whose duty is to deal with such attempts will respond to the above cases. For instance, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Dmitry Mironchik has rebuked at once several Ukrainian politicians who probably plan no trips to Belarus any time soon. Besides, the President’s Administration weighs an option to ban Ukrainian politicians ignoring diplomatic ethics from Belarus. Irina Gerashchenko who regularly visits Minsk as a member of the Contact Group appears to be the first on the list of the banned officials. However, it seems that Gerashchenko does not think that her behavior is a “stab in the back” of Ukrainian captives whose exchange is currently discussed at the Contact Group.

“As to not so adequate statements against Belarus, fortunately, their authors are mostly marginal politicians or persons having no real authority. Their ‘incriminating’ statements and calculation of ‘stabs in the back’ are addressed to Ukraine and seek attention,” said Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Dmitry Mironchik. “However, all this has prompted calls for creating ‘serious sabotage and intelligence groups’ and ‘making sabotage actions’ in the territory of Belarus, which is beyond political PR-campaign. In such situation either physicians or police or both are need.”

If Gerashchenko and other politicians who are banned from Russia think they can avoid punishment for insulting the Belarusian people, they are grossly mistaken.

The anti-Belarusian rhetoric of some Ukrainian politicians has intensified drastically since November 15, after President Vladimir Putin agreed to join the talks on exchange of captives between Ukraine and Donetsk/Lugansk Peoples Republics (DPR/LPR).

It was on November 15 meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov that Foreign Minister of Belarus Vladimir Makei suggested sending Belarusian peacekeepers to Donbass.

Noteworthy that the Ukrainian politicians who made undiplomatic statements against Belarus do not conceal that they support continuing the war in Donbass. Too many coincidences, isn’t it?

In fact, the Ukrainian politicians who urge “war until the last Ukrainian” seek to break the work of the Minsk Contact Group to have it dissolved.

P.S. This might be an order from a third country as well. Kazakhstan is the most probable candidate for mediator in the talks. Foreign Minister of Kazakhstan Erlan Idrisov was the first to suggest “providing a relevant platform for dialogue” in December, 2016.

In July, 2017, Nursultan Nazarbayev personally offered “all possible assistance in the negotiation process” between Kiev and Moscow.

Igor Gerasimets (Minsk, Belarus)

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14.12.2017

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