This article by Bogdan Bezpalko, member of Russia’s Presidential Council for Interethnic Relations, is a reply to an article by Polish political analyst Jakub Korejba.
In his article, Korejba says that Russia is conducting an inappropriate policy towards Belarus and keeps restricting its sovereignty by means of both political and economic instruments. But the reality is that Russia is the only guarantor of Belarus’s sovereignty.
According to the Mises Center (Minsk), in 2004-2014, Russia’s oil grant to Belarus equaled 10-12% of the Belarusian GDP. In 2016, almost 83% of all Belarusian dairy products were sold in Russia. Belarus pays just $132 per 1,000 c m of the Russian gas. Belarus has access to five oil fields in Russia and even has a network of 76 filling stations (Belorusneft).
As of today, Russia has lent Belarus a total of $50bn. It also owns 65% of the authorized capital of the Eurasian Development Bank – a bank that has lent the Belarusians $4.16bn since 2010.
As part of the Union State, Belarus enjoys the protection of Russia’s “nuclear umbrella.” Russia has supplied the Belarusian army with expensive weapons, including S-300 missile systems and Yak-130UT planes. One S-300 costs over $100mn but the Belarusians got it free of charge.
These facts prove that without Russia’s support, Belarus would not have the sovereignty it has today. Theoretically, the Belarusians could do without Russia’s support but in that case, their monthly income would be $40-70. Not that it is much higher in reality: in district centers, people buy clothes on trust – but mostly because of the inefficiency of the country’s existing economic model.
Despite Russia’s active support, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko is doing nothing to develop the Union State. The union has no single currency, no single government, no single system of citizenship. Instead, the sides are engaged in some scandals or “milk” and other wars. Russia has always made concessions. When oil prices were high and relations with the West good, the Russians ignored Lukashenko’s escapades. They even neglected his broken promise to recognize the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
In 2012, Russia faced economic problems and began reducing its support for Belarus. Things got worse when Belarus refused to support Russia in its confrontation with the West. But the real conflict started when Lukashenko decided that he has the right to unilaterally fix the price of Russian gas and the tariff for the transit of Russian oil.
As of today, Belarus owes Russia $0.5bn for gas. This conflict was followed by political repressions: the arrest of journalists Sergey Shiptenko, Dmitry Alimkin and Yuri Pavlovets for their criticism of Minsk’s anti-Russian policy.
But let’s go back to the problem of sovereignty. What conclusion can be drawn from the above-stated? Does Russia restrict anybody’s sovereignty? Yes, it does – it restricts its own sovereignty. Its only “crime” is that it refuses to subsidize Belarus’s sovereignty any longer. And this seems to have shocked our Polish colleagues. Now that Belarus has started to move towards the West, now that the Poles have started to Polonize it, the Russians have dared to refuse to finance it! And they may go even further: they may start financing their own regions or some of their true allies – Donbass or the legitimate Syrian authorities, who – unlike Belarus – have recognized Crimea as part of Russia.
Dear Polish colleagues! Please, recognize Russia’s right not to pay for someone else’s sovereignty. If you want and can, please, take from us the obligation to provide the Belarusians with economic assistance. Oil and gas prices have dropped. Poland, unlike Russia, is not a fuel-based economy. Poland is Europe. The Belarusians respect you more than us. So, why don’t you just subsidize at least 5% of their GDP? Why don’t you open your market for Belarusian goods? Why don’t you receive 1,000,000 guest workers each year and offer them the same working conditions you offer to you own citizens? Why don’t you lend them 1bn-3bn EUR? But all you are doing instead is sponsoring Belsat TV company and giving grants to the Belarusian opposition.
Perhaps, Polish colleagues should better think of their own Polish sovereignty? Though enjoying subsidies from Brussels, they are also restricted in their rights – no matter how eloquent former Polish foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski is for describing the Americans’ enormous respect for Polish sovereignty.
Bogdan Bezpalko, specially for EADaily