ROAR: Belarus prefers Russia to the West

Vladimir Kremlev for RT
The President of Belarus is ready to mend ties with Russia after a period of maneuvering between Moscow, Europe and the US, analysts say.

Aleksandr Lukashenko came to Russia last week “to discuss problems that are not being solved.” The president is spending his vacation in Sochi, where he is to meet his counterpart Dmitry Medvedev later this week," Russian media report.

Analysts believe the Belarusian president “will be bargaining” good relations with Russia for a loan he needs to improve the economy of his country.

“Lukashenko has written letters to Russian governors, in which he explained in his way the causes of the conflict between Russia and Belarus,” Vedomosti daily wrote. “But now he is ready to wait for President Dmitry Medvedev, [Lukashenko] needs money that only Russia can give them.”

The paper quotes an anonymous source close to the administration of the Russian president as saying that “Moscow and Minsk have been looking for a month for a painless cause for both sides to take the course of rapprochement.” However, now Belarus wants “$500 million for peace,” the paper said.

Russia and Belarus have recently been involved in a series of trade rows over exports of milk and meat. “Most of all Russia has been upset by the surprise refusal of Lukashenko to sign the agreement on the establishment of the rapid reaction force of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO),” Vedomosti said.

Moscow has been also disappointed by “the PR exercise of Minsk, which explained the causes of the Russian-Belarusian conflicts,” the paper added.

Another daily, Vremya Novostey, has called Lukashenko’s course “a policy of pendulum.” However, the Belarusian leader’s good words about Russia do not mean that Minsk has made another turn in its foreign policy, the paper said.

“On the eve of the meeting with Medvedev Lukashenko thought it was appropriate to criticize the West to show that he remains Russia’s ally,” Belarusian political scientist Aleksandr Klaskovsky told Vremya Novostey. However, maneuvering between Moscow and Brussels could still be successful for Minsk for a long time, Olga Abramova, a former deputy of the Belarusian parliament, told the daily.

Abramova believes that another problem in Russian-Belarusian relations, regarding the recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia by Minsk, “no longer has a significant practical importance.” Today this topic is “only important for Russia’s image,” Abramova said, adding that Moscow wants Belarus “to make obvious steps in support of Russia’s policies.”

Lukashenko is interested in the meeting with Medvedev because of the deterioration of the economic situation in his country, Yaroslav Romanchuk, president of Scientific Research Mises Center in Belarus, told Vedomosti. “Lukashenko intends to ask a $500 million loan from Russia, speaking about Russia’s guilt [over economic pressure] and stressing that Minsk is the last reliable partner of Moscow,” the paper said.

“The Belarusians have understood that the Eastern Partnership does not have advantages,” Modest Kolerov, former head of the international department of the Russian presidential administration, told Vedomosti. “Funds that had been promised to member states of the partnership were worthless, and now… they have been cut.”

Lukashenko understands that “his maneuvers towards the West are over,” Aleksey Mukhin, general director of the Center for Political Information, told RT. “Now he has yielded on that direction as much as he could.”

“In the future, the International Monetary Fund, European and American institutions will demand of Lukashenko concrete actions that he does not want, understanding that they may lead to the loss of his personal power,” Mukhin said.

The president of Belarus understands that, after allowing the West or the opposition in his own country to establish a network of non-governmental organizations, “he will lose the first parliamentary or presidential elections,” the analyst added. “Moscow for Lukashenko is a chance to retain power, but he will have to give up a part of the republic’s property,” Mukhin said.

Lukashenko needs inexpensive loans and energy supplies from Russia now and in the future, Mukhin stressed. “And Moscow may pretend that it takes seriously Lukashenko’s overtures with the West,” he added. “At the same time, Moscow actually has its western advanced post in Belarus, more or less loyal to Russia.”

However, Moscow may take a very tough attitude towards Lukashenko personally, Mukhin believes. The president of Belarus may be even “invited” to visit Russia again if the talks are not successful this time, he added.

The hidden motives behind Lukashenko’s maneuvers in the West are his policies of spending Russian money on social projects that bring him the popularity among Belarusians, Mukhin said.

“The Russian leadership did not plan to increase the financing of Belarus in the conditions of crisis, but Lukashenko insisted on this,” Mukhin said. “Now Moscow cannot disregard what has been said by Minsk about the relations between the two countries.”

Olga Mefodyeva, commentator at Politcom.ru website, stressed that the US has made a significant contribution to Lukashenko’s intention to meet his Russian counterpart. Washington has made it clear that constructive dialogue with Minsk is possible only after democratization in Belarus, she said.

“Obligatory democratization, which the US is speaking about, means a limitation of Lukashenko’s personal power,” Mefodyeva said. “It was difficult to remove this contradiction from the very beginning,” she added.

“It could be the reason why the Russian authorities in fact left without attention to Lukashenko’s words about friendship between Belarus and the West,” she said. Lukashenko was expected to turn to Russia again, Mefodyeva added.

Lukashenko probably understood that Russia’s demands are the lesser of two evils when Phillip Gordon, US Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, visited Minsk, Mefodyeva said. Gordon urged Belarusian authorities “to release political prisoners, hold loose reins on the mass media and non-governmental organizations and hold free presidential election,” she added.

“After that Lukashenko accepted Medvedev’s invitation to visit Sochi and discuss relations between Russia and Belarus,” Mefodyeva said. However, she stressed that even in the case of successful talks, Russia “should not continue with the old logic of relations,” which led to the conflict.

Sergey Borisov, RT