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Expert: Key question Lukashenko is going to ask in Moscow – will Russia continue subsidizing Belarus?

Alexander Lukashenko and Vladimir Putin. Photo: naviny.by

Belorussian President Alexander Lukashenko will have a “hard” visit in Moscow, according to Andrey Suzdaltsev, Deputy Dean of the Global Economics and Global Politics Department of the National Research University - Higher School of Economics.

On Nov 16, Lukashenko told Russia’s Ambassador to Belarus Alexander Surikov that his first visit after his fourth reelection as president will be to Russia.

Suzdaltsev has told EADaily that in Moscow Lukashenko is going to discuss the whole spectrum of Russian-Belorussian relations.

“We have a huge experience of integration but we also have problems. But Lukashenko is committed to solve them,” Suzdaltsev says.

Lukashenko’s key question in Moscow, according to the expert, will be if Russia will continue subsidizing Belarus. “The economic system of Belarus is unable to ensure that country’s independence. So, in Moscow Lukashenko will ask not only to let Belarus further charge a tax from the export of products made from Russian oil and not only to keep the Russian gas price low. He may also ask for a loan,” Suzdaltsev says.

“This is a problem - for Russia agrees to lend Belarus money only in exchange for deep economic reforms. In 2011 Russia laid the same preconditions and even refused to give the last tranche because Belarus had done nothing to reform its economy,” the expert says.

He says that in Moscow Lukashenko has a trump – an agreement to get a loan from the IMF. “There is some casus here. To Russia Belarus says that its economic system is very efficient. When inaugurated as President Lukashenko said that there will be no reforms. But when meeting with a representative of the IMF, he said that the IMF’s requirements were acceptable and he was ready to reform his economy. So, it turns out that Lukashenko accepts the western format and rejects the Russian one,” Suzdaltsev says.

In this context, he remembers that Belarus continues supplying Russia with banned European products. “Here the Belorussians may say that the Customs Union allows them to supply whatever they like. But we also have the Union State. This is a political alliance and here we expect Lukashenko to support us in our confrontation with the West. So, this is one of the questions we will ask him in Moscow,” Suzdaltsev says.

Military and political relations will also be on agenda. “Lukashenko has received a gift from the West – frozen sanctions. In fact, the West has recognized his fifth term as President and now he is afraid that the sanctions may be resumed if he fails to protect human rights and if he allows Russia to deploy an air base in his country. So, he is trying to object. His arguments are weak: he says that if need be, Belarus will receive Russian planes. But the problem is that Belarus has neither infrastructure nor personnel for this. His second argument is that a Russian air base in Belarus will alarm the West. This is the second time Belarus is worried about the West’s reaction: in his time, Lukashenko refused to recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia (though he promised to) for fear of what the United States and the EU would say. What Russia will say he did not care. So, here we are facing a serious problem: we have negotiated on the base for two years and right before his election campaign Lukashenko broke his promise,” Suzdaltsev says.

The expert doubts that Lukashenko will change his opinion and will agree to let the Russian air base into his territory. “But on the other hand, he hopes for continued military supplies from Russia. Particularly, he expects us to grant him 24 battle-planes. So, his visit to Moscow will be a hard one,” Suzdaltsev says.

As EADaily reported earlier, the last presidential election in Belarus took place on Oct 11. Lukashenko polled over 83% of the votes. President Putin actively supported him throughout his campaign. In response, Lukashenko refused to support Russia in its confrontation with the West. Even more, now that Russia has banned EU products, he is smuggling them to the Russian market under Belorussian labels. And quite recently he opposed Russia’s plans to deploy an air base in Belarus.

After all this, in late Oct, the EU and the United States froze their sanctions against Belarus.

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