ROAR: Lukashenko under information siege

A critical documentary shown on Russian TV did not prevent the Belarusian president from signing all the agreements for the Customs Union in Kazakhstan. The united economic space may remove disagreements, analysts say.

Russian NTV channel showed on July 4 a documentary where Lukashenko was portrayed as a fierce dictator, oppressing and disposing of his opponents. Many observers described the film as sensational, and even scandalous.

The following day, the presidents of Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus signed a declaration enforcing the Customs Code for the three countries. Minsk had been reluctant to ratify the package of agreements of the Customs Union of the three countries, but was forced to do it as otherwise the country’s economy may be jeopardized.

The NTV documentary is considered to be the strongest signal ever that the Russian authorities may not support Lukashenko in the forthcoming presidential election in Belarus due to be held at the end of the year.

“That was a thermonuclear strike on the reputation of the Belarusian president,” journalist and political analyst Pavel Sheremet told Rosbalt news agency. This means that Moscow “no longer considers Lukashenko a long-term partner,” he added.

“Moscow wants to highlight the fact that if Lukashenko came to Astana, Kazakhstan, to sign all the agreements on the Customs Union, then he is in a very difficult situation,” the analyst stressed.

Speaking on the possible reaction of the Belarusian authorities, Sheremet did not rule out shutting down NTV’s bureau in Minsk.

Belarus’s embassy in Moscow has criticized the documentary, calling the accusations against Lukashenko “blasphemous,” Ekho Moskvy radio said. Vitaly Slivka, the press attaché of the embassy expressed hope that the film “did not reflect the official position of the Russian leadership.” Ordinary Russians “know the real situation in Belarus,” he told the radio.

“Break for the Customs Union”

Minsk’s participation in the Customs Union had been unclear for a long time, but Lukashenko “at the last moment brought to Astana the ratified Customs Code and put his signature wherever it was needed,” RBC daily said.

Belarus almost disrupted the launch of the Custom Union two times, demanding that Russia lifted export oil duties, the paper noted. The duties for Belarus will be lifted after Minsk ratifies all the documents of the united economic space, the paper added.

The Customs Union will fully operate when this space is launched in 2012, Nezavisimaya Gazeta daily said. Then the dream of practically all the countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States will come true, it added.

The Eurasian Economic Community (EurAsEC) marks its tenth anniversary as Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev celebrates his 70th birthday. Lukashenko called him “the engine of the community.” At he same time, the Belarusian leader forgot to mention himself as “a brake for launching the Customs Union,” the paper added.

Analysts predict further disagreements despite the launch of the Customs Union. The leaders declared the strengthening of the integration, but everything may return to its previous state, Aleksey Vlasov, general director of the Information and Analytical Center at Moscow University, said.

Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan will defend their own interests in the common project, the analyst told Nezavisimaya Gazeta. The question is if Belarus will use the Customs Union in its games with Moscow, or will it really be integrating into the organization, the paper said.

Lukashenko writes to Russian oligarchs

Kommersant daily has predicted a continuation of the conflict over oil and oil products – “now in the framework of the Customs Union.” Starting on July 6, Minsk is able to file judicial complaints against any important customs operations on the Belarusian-Russian border, the paper said.

Meanwhile, Lukashenko sent a letter to 80 big Russian business people, explaining his position in the recent gas row with Russia, the daily said. “The president accuses Moscow of disrupting talks over the gas price,” it said. The Belarusian’s position was “constructive” while “Moscow ignored our initiatives,” the letter read.

Lukashenko explained the conflict by Moscow’s desire to “subdue Belarus” and highlighted political interests behind the gas conflict. However, analysts say sending such letters marks the start of his presidential campaign.

Thus, the voters in Belarus “should see that the president is defending their wellbeing, but the Kremlin hinders him,” the paper said, citing observers.

Meanwhile, some analysts believe the work within the Customs Union will help remove disagreements in the Russian-Belarusian relations. The launch of the union on the agreed data is “in fact, the success for Russian, Belarusian and Kazakh politics,” believes political analyst Mikhail Remizov.

After Minsk ratifies the agreements on the united economic space, export duties for Russian oil will be lifted, he told Regnum news agency. “The Russian position looks like a mechanism of stimulating Belarus for a deeper stage of integration,” he noted.

Sergey Borisov,Russian Opinion and Analysis Review, RT