Hardly anyone will deny that there is certain tension between Belarus and Russia today. Like before, Minsk expresses its discontent at the bilateral relations, while Russia keeps calm. The most recent thrust of the Belarusian leadership against Moscow was Alexander Lukashenko’s statement at his meeting with State Secretary of the Union State Grigory Rapota on September 20. The media was flooded with the reports citing the Belarusian president’s pressure allegations against Russia. The Belarusian leader said neither the citizens of his country nor he “will tolerate” any pressure attempts. He openly hinted that the Eurasian Economic Union and the Union State are no longer interesting to the Minsk the way they operate at present. It is noteworthy that a week ago, the Belarusian leader said quite different things. “It would be silly on our side to put claims to Russia knowing that we are wrong,” the president told journalists. Today, official Minsk has changed its attitude to the eastern neighbor again actually accusing it of anti-Belarusian policy.
The Belarusian leader made such claims as the gas price and the reduction of oil supplies to Belarus, as well as restrictions on imports of some Belarusian goods to Russia. “We have been always proud of the fact that the trade turnover went up in physical terms in spite of the decrease in money terms. It means that we started to export bigger volumes of products to Russia and reduced prices by half. Does Belarus benefit from it? No, it doesn’t,” Alexander Lukashenko said. The Belarusian leader found whom to blame for the current problems: “when we deliver high-quality goods at reasonable prices to Russia we cost Russian agricultural oligarchs a pretty penny. They put pressure on the government (you know perfectly well that they are well-connected), and the government gives instructions to various civil servants in Rosselkhoznadzor and other agencies.” In short, Alexander Lukashenko believes that the “high-quality” Belarusian products shattered the calm of the “oligarchs” in power in Russia.
During the past year, Lukashenko has repeatedly expressed discontent at what is happening within the EAEU, but his statements were not that radical. Nevertheless, even the recent statements cannot be compared with what Lukashenko said at some point. He once blamed Russia of “terrorism at the highest level,” attempts to deprive the country of its independence, bring it down etc. This time, the Belarusian leader did not threaten directly to withdraw from all the integration unions like in 2009 when he threatened to reconsider Belarus’ commitments to the CSTO. His recent hints were less radical, of course: Now we are thoroughly analyzing our participation, first of all, in the Eurasian Economic Union. If the situation remains the same, what for will we need so many civil servants there... We are violating everything we have agreed upon.”
The Belarusian leader’s discontent was not aimed against the State Secretary of the Union State sitting in front of him that day. The latter decides nothing; he just fulfills representative functions in the given union. The wave of discontent was aimed against the Kremlin that has not made any serious claims to Minsk for a long time already. This may seem strange – Moscow demands nearly nothing from Belarus, closes its eyes on Minsk’s “flirts” with Brussels and Washington, little reminds about the privatization that was promised yet two decades ago. Meantime, Belarus keeps making pressure allegations against Russia. However, gaining insight into what is happening in Belarus now, everything fits together.
First, the Belarusian leader has always cared for his status of the person who can decide everything. The current situation with the Russian gas and oil supplies to Belarus has questioned that status. Yet on September 11, Alexander Lukashenko thought he managed to agree with the Russian leadership personally to settle the gas conflict and it remained to sign agreements on it, but on September 14, his hopes foundered. The president does not care for fulfilling his promises – he can say and then swallow his words. The problem is that Lukashenko cares for his status not only inside the country, but also beyond it. He likes when everyone reckons with him. It has turned out recently that Russia will not sacrifice its interests to favor the Belarusian leader.
Second, Minsk needs additional sources of financing, but it cannot do it by increasing exports to the EAEU countries due to the devaluation of the Russian ruble. That is why Minsk is looking forward to the West’s financing. The IMF envoys have already arrived in Belarus. The demonstrative discontent at Russia and at the insufficient development of the EAEU and the Union State pursue one goal – to make the West intensify the talks with Belarus. Such tactics worked previously and Minsk hopes to use it again. Belarus is sure that a small conflict with Russia will be useful for the relations with the EU and U.S.
Third, the Belarusian authorities simply need to support the people’s illusions concerning those guilty for the current situation in the country. Considering that the president will never confess that integration into the Union State was failed by the Belarusian side and the industrial cooperation of the two countries was frozen because Moscow did not want to lose control over the state property, the only chance to explain the economic failures to the ordinary citizens is to blame the “foreign markets” and the “Kremlin’s pressure” for everything.
There is no need in deeper analysis of Alexander Lukashenko’s recent statements. Everything he says today he had said for many times previously. The latest thrust against Russia was apparently a protective response to the situation when no one in the country, even the president, knows what to do next. By all appearances, Moscow understands this too. That is why, the Kremlin has not responded to Lukashenko’s statements. This means that Moscow no longer cares for Belarus’ attempts to frighten Russia. The Kremlin considers the bilateral relations in the light of the known proverb about the caravan that moves on ignoring the side sounds. As for Minsk, it will never be happy at full with its partners in the Union State whatever they do.
By Pavel Yurintsev