A chronic failure to appoint or prolonged delays in appointing Ukraine’s ambassadors in several countries have become a hallmark of Ukrainian foreign policy under post-Euromaidan governments, not to mention staffing and funding of embassies, which have been even more troubled. This effectively constitutes a failure on the diplomatic front, because the absence of ambassadors concerns key countries as well, which cannot help but affect the relations with our strategic partners.
Valery KARBALEVICH, political scientist, Minsk:
“As for the devastating speech Lukashenko gave on Russia, the Belarusian-Russian conflict is not new. It is there all the time. The conflict is intrinsic in the very nature of Belarusian-Russian relations, which are not based on any clear, legally binding economic documents. On the contrary, they are based on individual agreements between the two presidents.
“And now the principal reason for such a conflict is the amount of financial assistance Russia provides for Belarus. Russia is unable to meet all the needs of Belarus, hence the conflict. Now, as the oil prices have dropped worldwide, the energy grant that Belarus received from Russia has decreased. Secondly, there is a crisis in Belarus itself, so that assistance is needed in ever greater quantities. And Russia experiences the economic crisis itself, and so it is reluctant to provide more financial aid.
“Also, in such conflicts Lukashenko very often tends to use the method of scandal. He discloses some unofficial disputes in the public space, as if trying to appeal to the Russian public opinion. He is, figuratively speaking, banging his fist on the table. Previously this tactic had worked, because Lukashenko was quite popular in the Russian mass consciousness. The Russians said that they would like to have such a leader who purged all the oligarchs and who preserved something of the Soviet system. They said it was a country without rich people.
“And now, as Russia began to, as it is called, ‘rise from its knees,’ as there is a national upsurge, and when Putin’s personal rating is 84 percent, such appeal to the Russian public opinion would not work well. So far, this long-standing conflict has lasted for a year and it is unclear when it will be finished.
“For Lukashenko is important to have lower gas prices, and higher volume of oil supplied to Belarus; he also needs regular loans from Russia, because the Belarusian economy is simply not in a position today to survive without Russian loans.
“It should be noted that Lukashenko’s statements about the unity of Belarusian and Russian peoples are often contradictory. It all depends on who he’s talking to and what he wants to say. And every part of the audience hears what they want to hear. In the same speech Lukashenko expresses absolutely opposite views. On the one hand, he says, we are brothers, we are one people, Belarusians are so close to you, but with the quality mark. And another time he says that we are not the Russian world, we have our own history, we are different, we do not want to be with Russia in its war against the whole world.
“Belarusian society is highly divided and split, like any other. There are supporters of Lukashenko, and there are his opponents. There are proponents of European integration, and there are those who want to continue the integration with Russia. The ratio is about 50 to 50.
“But after 2014, especially after the Russian annexation of Crimea, Lukashenko is trying to maneuver in order to normalize his relations with the West. But it would be premature to say that Belarus has moved away from Russia towards Europe. In regard to the West, there is a process of normalization going on; the relationship used to be so bad, that now some very simple steps should be made to normalize relations. And Lukashenko is well aware of the red line, which he cannot cross in his relations with Russia, lest Russia does to him the same thing it did to Ukraine. This red line is the following: never leave the integration associations that were created in the post-Soviet space. That is the CIS, the Union State of Belarus and Russia, the CSTO, the Eurasian Economic Community. Lukashenko may criticize the EurAsEC and shirk the attendance of summits. On December 26 he did not go to the CSTO summit in St. Petersburg and now he refuses to sign the Customs Code, which was adopted at this summit. He thus puts pressure on Russia in order to trade another subsidy to support him.
“On the one hand, Belarus is interested in good relations with Ukraine. But above all, the reasons are economic. Ukraine is a good market for Belarusian oil products. It is very profitable and Belarus takes as much out of this situation as possible. On the other hand, Lukashenko is using the situation in Ukraine to play with his own audience – the Belarusian population. The essence of this game is as follows: you are dissatisfied with low salaries, pensions, and the fact that our prices are rising – but it does not matter. What matters is order. If you do not understand what I mean, just look at Ukraine. Thank me that we have peace, not war, like in Ukraine, and be happy with it.”
Serhii PIROZHKOV, vice president of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Ukraine to the Republic of Moldova:
“The fact that there are no Ukrainian ambassadors in many countries certainly limits our diplomatic capabilities in terms of speed and level at which issues get resolved. Certain things can only be done by ambassadors. We have not had a representative at NATO for a long time as well. Of course, questions should be asked of the president and the officials whose job is to get appointments approved. In the early 2000s, Ukraine recognized that its ultimate goal was the accession to NATO. Then Ukraine started to change its course due to various political processes. Now again, we seem to have chosen the same path, although given the war in the Donbas and the Crimea annexation, there are more pressing issues at the moment that must be addressed urgently. Unfortunately, Ukraine sometimes fails to abide by the commitments it takes upon itself.
“The absence of Ukrainian ambassador in Belarus does not affect the work of the contact group in the slightest, because there are services in place that take care of the process of negotiations. Still, the very fact of the absence of our ambassador there certainly hinders many aspects of our relations with the neighboring country. We are now seeing Alexander Lukashenko trying to improve his status in the international arena, although the causes are more economic than political. Let us see if he succeeds, but we must be prepared for any developments. However, I do not think that Lukashenko will change his strategic course. Rather, his recent statements are issue-specific and emotional.”
Oksana YURYNETS, MP, Petro Poroshenko Bloc faction:
“Committee on Foreign Affairs has repeatedly stressed the need for the appointment of ambassadors in the countries where we have not had one for a long time, and in particular the official representative of Ukraine to NATO. Also, the committee, led by Hanna Hopko, recalls the need for the appointment of ambassador to Belarus. Firstly, it is a neighboring country, secondly, it is the venue where negotiations on the Donbas are being held, and thirdly, doing so will speed up the resolution of many diplomatic issues. I can say that I am pleased with the Verkhovna Rada’s attitude in this regard, since MPs are constantly monitoring this issue and making the appropriate steps. It should be said that the process of appointing ambassadors has already started, although certainly not enough has been done so far. Ukrainians in the affected countries also tell us all the time about the problem created by the absence of ambassadors. It is also worth recalling that we have a large personnel shortage. We are searching for candidates who have not been tainted by working for the previous government. Andrii Zaiats has recently been appointed State Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), and I hope that issues including the reform of the civil service and the MFA as well as appointment of ambassadors will be resolved quickly. To my knowledge, even the minister himself will have nothing to do with personnel issues. Unfortunately, the war also puts a brake on our efforts.”