Belarusian neutrality is cheap fiction
By Andrei Partonikau
Statements made during the so-called All-Belarusian People’s Assembly regarding the possibility of abandoning the principle of neutrality enshrined in the Constitution do not herald any material change in the regime’s actual security policy.
On February 11, 2021, during a speech to the so-called “All-Belarusian People’s Assembly” Belarusian Foreign Minister Uladzimir Makei stated that the neutrality aspirations of the country, as enshrined in the Constitution, do not align with the current situation. A representative of the General Staff then proposed that the constitutional principle be altered to one of coalition-building in the interests of military security.
Article 18 of the Belarusian Constitution stipulates that neutrality is a state objective. However, the Belarusian state is not governed by the rule of law, and many constitutional norms are therefore empty declarations rather than expressions of actual action and political practice.
Since the restoration of independence and the creation of the national army, Minsk has been oriented towards Russia regarding military matters. Belarus participates in bilateral and multilateral military alliances of post-Soviet countries centred upon Moscow. There are two Russian military facilities on Belarusian territory, though they are not military bases, do not enjoy extraterritorial immunity and do not have offensive potential. However, the scope of the commitments made concerning this cooperation is uncertain.
Claims that the Belarusian army is an integral part of the Russian military machine are premature, however over the past 29 years, the Belarusian authorities have not taken sufficient steps to acquire genuinely neutral status. Statements regarding the strategic inevitability of the Belarusian-Russian military alliance are regularly made at the highest level. Minsk has invoked the neutrality principle only in the case of the Russian-Ukrainian war, to justify a refusal to become entangled in the confrontation between Moscow and Kyiv.
Publicly suggesting the possibility of abandoning the neutrality principle in the new Constitution is mere political chicanery by the regime, intended to curry favour with Moscow and improve their negotiating position regarding future Russian support. Such a suggestion also serves as an attempt to blackmail the West into restoring relations on the terms acceptable to the Belarusian regime by threatening an increase in Russian regional influence.
Viewed in terms of the effective security landscape of Eastern Europe, neither preservation nor abandonment of the neutrality principle in the new Constitution is of any practical significance so long as the current regime remains in power.