Putin and Lukashenko are waging battle of nerves

Author : Olexander Klaskovsky

Source : 112 Ukraine

The meeting of the persidents might slightly reduce the tension, but Belarusian interest to integration with Russia would gradually weaken
10:10, 10 February 2017

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The meeting of Alexander Lukashenko and Vladimir Putin, proposed by the Kremlin, has been “frozen.” February 8, Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for the Russian president, stated that the reason was inability to harmonize the schedules of the presidents.

It is not difficult to understand that this is a euphemism, kind of diplomatic camouflage. In fact, the results of the meeting might be quite disappointing, like in the end of November. As Lukashenko admitted later, he voiced a phrase that has become a meme: "Listen, Volodya, don’t spoil my evening!"

In other words, the two sides still have not reached a compromise.

February 2, close to the Kremlin "Izvestia" news agency with reference to Peskov said that the meeting between the two presidents may take place in the first half of February in Moscow, as a part of the Supreme State Council of the Union State. They called the exact date – 9 February. Now, as we see, the plans have been cancelled.

Related: Russia-Belarus: Global cooling of relations

What happened during this time? It was the "great conversation with the president," Lukashenko’s press-conference, a fair amount of which has been dedicated to voicing the claims against Moscow. It included some unflattering characteristics of Russian behavior and unveiling details of confidential talks between the two heads.

Perhaps Putin decided to punish his ally for those daring speech and unveiling confidential information?

Perhaps, postponing of a the meeting is "Lukashenko’s personal answer," said political analyst Yuriy Drakakhrust. He recalled that on December 26 the Belarusian official leader has actually boycotted EAEC and CSTO summits in Saint Petersburg.

The fact that the Ministry of Internal Affairs conducts pre-investigation checks on "Dankvert’s case" also shows that in bilateral relations are quite tensed, Drakakhrust adds.

Russia’s Sergey Dankvert, the head of the Rosselkhoznadzor, allegedly blocks deliveries of Belarusian products, and Lukashenko ordered to consider this issue at that press conference.

Related: Lukashenko asks Russia to give Belarus warplanes instead of placing military base

And as soon as the process has started (February 6, Dankvert banned beef delivery from Minsk region, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich reminded of gas debt), it became obvious that the escalation of conflict, a “war of nerves” between Minsk and Moscow continues.

In the context of a multi-faceted (with core oil and gas) conflict, Belarusian side continues aggravate the situation. February 3, Belarusian leader has voiced a pathetic slogan: independence is more valuable than oil. This is a clear allusion to the fact that the conditions imposed by Moscow (including non-public) are threatening the Belarusian independence.

The slogan about priceless independence sounds very beautiful, but the reality is challenging it. In fact, Belarusian export of oil products decreased in physical terms by 23% last year, and by nearly 40% in terms of money. This is largely due to the fact that Russia punished Belarus for an incomplete payment of gas supplies, forcing refineries to go on “starvation rations.”

Minsk does not pay gas debt, counted by Moscow (US $ 550 million), primarily because it does not see it. Lukashenko quoted some numbers, according to which in 2016 Belarusians have overpaid to Gazprom’s daughter company. So the price was $ 107 per thousand cubic meters instead of 83 (despite the fact that the contract required paying $ 132).

Related: Belarus introduces a five-day visa-free regime for citizens of 80 countries, including US and EU

Lukashenko also believes that after joining the EAEC, Belarus has lost $ 15 billion. In short, the integration could not be called equal and fair, Moscow's attitude to the Belarusian partner was just a "mockery". Kremlin, however, immediately responded that Russian budget has lost $ 22.3 billion on the duty-free oil for Belarus.

However, the leadership of the Belarusian situation is much worse position than the Russian one. Moscow has many opportunities to sell its black gold. But the Belarusian economy, which is currently in recession, might go down without obtaining previous volumes of oil, Russian loans, and other forms of familiar support.

Is Lukashenko ready to prove that independence is more valuable than oil? Would he lead his people to the dugout? Maybe someday he would tell, let us join Russia?

Related: Russia prohibits beef supply from Belarus

The strength of patriotism of this young and very Russified country is a separate complex issue. Anyway, Drakakhrust believes that today we are witnessing "the creation of the Belarusian national identity" and that "demonstration of national pride of the Belarusians." Anyway, independence should be paid.

Belarusian economy needs to be restructured in order to get rid of cheap Russian energy. Refineries should be upgraded (Belarus should raise the degree of processing of raw materials), so they would give a profit not only for preferential oil. But modernization of our enterprises needs a lot of money.

Authoritarian modernization does not work, Belarus needs to change the structure of the economy, get rid of ineffective state property, refuse from the artificial monsters of socialist industry, and place its bets on innovative, high technology products.

Related: Belarusian special forces to participate in counter-terrorist operations in Russia

The Head of State encouraged his subordinates to seek fresh ideas, but this is something impossible. The market transformation plane really exists, and it should be reasonably adapted to the national specifics.

The transformation is often decorative and demonstrative, so the analyst insist that there is no political will enough for implementing the reforms.

Belarusian president was trying to prove that the problem is not that "Lukashenko is outdated, so he does not know what to do."

Commenting on his stubborn stance on the issue of privatization, he hinted at a foreign aspect of the problem: "If I put up for sale these companies, each of you will response about their future fate. [And I am convinced that] these enterprises would not be bought by our people..."

Lukashenko was against selling Belarusian "Integral," Minsk Wheel Tractor Plant, MAZ, "Grodno Azot" to Russian capitalists. Belarusian official leader is seriously concerned that the Russians might soon buy Belarus, and in addition to economic power, political power would come to their hands.

Related: Poroshenko and Lukashenko discussed economic and political cooperation between Ukraine and Belarus

Domestic opponents might blame the head of state, that he himself led the country into a trap, but independence is something really sacred for them. This is the case when the ruling class and the opposition could find common ground.

However, an attempt to show the willingness of the elites to start some cautious dialogue with society seemed very decorative, and even grossly manipulative.

It is clear that sooner or later, Lukashenko and Putin would harmonize their schedules and meet, approving a compromise project of bilateral relations. Who would benefit from this compromise?

"Belarusian side would not be able to fully retain the positions," claims analyst Andrei Fedorov.

In comments to, Fedorov suggested that Lukashenko is likely to prevent building a Russian airbase in Belarus. At the same time, Minsk will have to pay gas debt (perhaps Moscow would soften conditions of payment). Oil supplies might increase, but not to 24 million tons per year, as desired by Minsk.

Related: Would Belarus parliament emerge from the shadow?

In turn, Drakakhrust believes that Minsk might fulfill some Russian conditions (for example, re-export of sanctions products, sell some important asset for the Russians), but it would not look like a complete capitulation.

I should add that Belarus would not leave EAEC, CSTO, Union State, but the interest to these organizations would weaken. This means that willy-nilly Belarus would be forced to survive and rely on itself only. It is impossible without transformation of the ossified socio-economic and political model.

Lukashenko is conservative, and he reluctantly agrees for changes. Now Lukashenko would be forced to implement more reforms. Would he make enough efforts to save Belarusian independence?

Related: Belarus elections: opposition in parliament

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