ROAR: “Russia’s leaders are patient with Lukashenko”

Vladimir Kremlev for RT
Leaders of Russia and Belarus have marked the anniversary of the Union State with tough discussions about economic relations and promised to step up bilateral cooperation.

Russia will continue to support the Belarusian economy, President Dmitry Medvedev said after a meeting of the Union State’s Supreme State Council on December 11 in Moscow.

The ten years that passed since the agreement to establish a union state “have not been spent in vain,” Medvedev said, adding that the treaty “reflects our urge for integration.” Lukashenko noted that the Union State has good prospects.

The work on the creation of the Union State has brought “decent results,” Rossiyskaya Gazeta daily said, citing the Belarusian leader. Cooperation in the economic, military and security spheres has intensified, the paper said. The issues of equal rights of Russians in Belarus and vice versa “have been practically solved,” it added.

The two sides agreed to strengthen economic foundation of the Union State. After the talks they agreed to allocate five billion roubles for next year’s budget of the Union State. Also, a draft union constitution may be discussed in July 2010 in Minsk.

However, the two presidents marked the anniversary with “tough discussions,” Nezavisimaya Gazeta daily said. Another daily, Kommersant, noted that a record was set in the talks because Medvedev and Lukashenko “spoke with the participation of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin for more than eight hours.” The meeting seemed to be “as endless as the process of building the Union State itself,” the paper noted.

Negotiations usually last so long when good friends speak or “when the two sides cannot come to an agreement,” the daily said. The paper noted that the latter variant was more appropriate because the Russian prime minister “had something to tell the Belarusian president.”

Lukashenko recently blamed Putin “for hampering integration processes and military cooperation between the two countries,” the daily said. Putin has not replied publicly to the sharp criticism.

Nevertheless, the negotiations ended by the signing of a treaty on military and technical cooperation “profitable for Belarus,” Kommersant said. “The Belarusian delegation not only asked for new concessions, but also demanded that the Russian legislation be amended in the interests of Belarus,” the paper stressed.

A source in the Russian delegation told Kommersant that Moscow would preserve preferential duties for Russia’s oil supplies to Belarus. “It is our concession to them,” the source said. At the same time, Russia does not want to “give out loans to Minsk,” the paper added.

Minsk wanted more concessions, a source told Kommersant. “We had to explain ten times to our Belarusian colleagues that Minsk cannot live owing to Russian loans without giving something in their economy in exchange for it,” he said.

Demanding more concessions, the Belarusian side even proposed to change Russian laws, the paper said. “An initiative to amend our law on the Central Bank was put forward,” the source said, adding that the Russian president and the prime minister “showed absolute patience.”

“We are ready for the integration and ready to incur costs, but we cannot cover holes in the Belarusian budget that emerge because of the specific model of their economy,” he said.

Russia will also preserve the prices for oil and gas for Belarus at this year’s level, Vedomosti daily wrote, citing Pavel Borodin, the state secretary of the Union State. The media treated that as another concession. One should only guess about “Russian bonuses from the friendship with Aleksandr Lukashenko,” RBC daily noted.

The Russian and Belarusian leaders did not make “any hints about such problems of bilateral relations as the continuing consideration by the Belarusian side of the issue about the recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia,” Vremya Novostey daily said.

However, the Belarusian side did not manage to get the Russian S-400 air defense system on Minsk’s conditions, Gazeta daily said. The two countries agreed in February to accomplish the creation of a single air defense, but Minsk has not yet signed the protocol of the agreement, the paper wrote.

Belarus proposed to maintain the systems and pay salaries to Russian officers, but Minsk does not want to buy the systems from Russia, the daily added. “Moscow rejects this variant and proposes that its ally should buy the systems at a world market price,” the daily said.

Belarus also tried to reduce the price, stressing that the air defense that is being created will be a joint venture between Russia and Belarus, but the parties did not find a solution at the meeting, the paper said.

Despite the fact that the problem with the S-400 systems has yet to be solved, analysts consider the work of the joint air defense system as an achievement in military cooperation.

There are other points of integration, which play an important role, but there is no Union State, no single national currency and no united leadership,” political scientist Aleksandr Tsipko believes.

Lukashenko “is not a very convenient partner for talks,” Tsipko told Actualcomment.ru. “But one should understand that Lukashenko is the last leader of Belarus who supports these relations and strategic partnership with Russia.”

If an opposition leader or someone from Lukashenko’s entourage comes to power, “Belarus will abandon these relations and move to the West,” Tsipko said. “There is a partnership. We should keep it, but as soon as we lose Lukashenko and get an opposition leader, the situation will change fundamentally from a historical point of view,” the analyst stressed.

“The outlook of the Union State may depend on politicians, but people always influence politics,” Vyacheslav Nikonov, president of the Russian World foundation, told the website. Belarus remains “our main political partner,” he noted.

There are constant things that are more important, Nikonov stressed. In particular, Belarusians speak the Russian language, and the majority of them consider our countries “sister nations, if not one people.” This supports the partnership, the analyst said.

Sergey Borisov, RT