ROAR: War games of Russia, Belarus “make Western analysts nervous”

Vladimir Kremlev for RT
Analysts have noted disagreements between Russia and Belarus in political and economic spheres, but emphasize the successful military cooperation.

Presidents Dmitry Medvedev and Aleksandr Lukashenko discussed the main issues in their bilateral relations on September 29 while attending the “Zapad 2009” (West 2009) war games held in Belarus.

RBC daily called the meeting between the two leaders “talks in combat conditions”. The resumption of creating a united air defense system was the main result of the negotiations, the paper said. However, many observers expected that agreements in trade and economy would also be coordinated.

“Minsk had insisted on the meeting,” a source in the Russian Foreign Ministry told RBC daily. The Belarus side is actively promoting cooperation in the military sphere, “using Russia’s concerns about defense of its Western borders,” associate professor at the Higher School of Economics Andrey Suzdaltsev told the paper. “For Minsk, it is one of the arguments while demanding economic preferences,” he said.

Moscow and Minsk also have problems in military cooperation, including the creation of the integrated air defense system. However, all necessary decisions were taken during the Zapad 2009 maneuvers. The united command center of the air defense system will be established, the media reports.

“But the two sides have not moved forward in any other issue, including Russia’s $500 million loan to Belarus, prices for gas and the cooperation at the Collective Security Treaty Organization,” RBC daily noted.

The presidents may try to solve these issues “in less extreme conditions,” Kommersant daily wrote. Medvedev and Lukashenko will meet next week at the CIS summit in Moldova and at the meeting of the state council of the Union State of Russia and Belarus at the beginning of December, the paper said.

The December summit will see the tenth anniversary of the bilateral relations in the framework of the union, Kommersant noted. Lukashenko and Medvedev will probably try to solve some of the problems by that date, the paper added.

This time, there was a hope before the meeting that Lukashenko would “make a fine gesture and recognize the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia,” RBC daily said. “But sources in the Russian Foreign Ministry said that Dmitry Medvedev went to Belarus without the intention to raise this question,” the paper added.

Lukashenko is interested in Russia’s financial assistance to guarantee stability in his country before the next presidential election, observer Pavel Sheremet wrote in Kommersant daily.

Russia does not want to render “assistance in exchange for conversations,” Sheremet wrote. The Kremlin will try to exert pressure on Belarus, demanding “some concrete things,” the observer stressed.

The talks between Medvedev and Lukashenko became the continuation of their informal meeting that took place in Sochi in August. Moscow then “tested Minsk”, trying to understand if it “is ready to return to the close loyal circle,” Maksim Minaev, analyst at the Center for Political Conjuncture, said.

Moscow wants to know if Minsk “is really interested in bilateral strategic relations,” the analyst said. The results of the August talks showed that “Lukashenko does not intend on restoring constructive relations and to return to the loyal circle of Russia’s foreign policy,” Minaev stressed.

This was confirmed by the fact that “no decisions were taken” during the informal meeting, Minaev said. The two presidents only ordered their governments to conduct more consultations on financial and economic cooperation,” he added.

Minaev also noted that in August there were few commentaries about the meeting from the presidents and their entourage. That evidenced that “no compromises were found” and “Minsk failed the test,” Minaev said.

But before the latest meeting the leaders were more optimistic. The media quote Medvedev as saying that “Belarus is not the younger sister to us, it is just our sister.” There are issues we have been discussing openly,” he said. Medvedev does not think that relations between the two countries “have been worsening.”

Lukashenko, in his turn, said that the only problem in bilateral relations is “removing barriers in trade.” At the same time, Moscow and Minsk understand well that the partnership between the two countries “needs urgent mending,” Trud daily wrote.

“The Belarusian president is waiting for Russia to stop the so-called trade blockade, end the ban on imports of milk from Belarus, and reconsider prices for gas,” the paper said. “But analysts are certain that Moscow will not remove the blockade without any conditions,” the daily noted.

So far, it is still unclear if Medvedev and Lukashenko have reached any agreements in the economic sphere. “Russia will do it in exchange for the recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia,” Valery Khomyakov, co-chairman of the Council on National Strategy, told Trud. But Igor Bunin, director of the Center for Political Technologies, in his turn, told the paper that Russia is not going to bargain in this issue.

“Lukashenko has stated that he would recognize the independence of the two republics by October 2009,” Trud noted, adding, “However, he promised back in April to do the same,” the paper added.

No matter how many disputable issues are in the political and economic relations between the two countries, the military cooperation is developing more successfully, analysts say.

During the Zapad 2009 exercises, Russia and Belarus imitated “a defensive war against the West,” Vremya Novostey daily wrote. The maneuvers were not directed against any concrete country, the paper quoted Belarusian Defense Ministry’s representatives as saying.

At the same time, the Belarusian authorities said about “an excessive nervousness” of some foreign analysts, which was caused by the exercises, the paper added.

The two states have shown to Europe that they have “a fairly coordinated” mechanism of military cooperation,” Vladimir Anokhin, vice president of the Academy of Geopolitical Problems, told Rosbalt news agency.

The very fact of these maneuvers is that they are stopping “political games in Russia-Belarus relations,” Anokhin said. The military cooperation between the two countries does not feel “the political influence,” he added.

Western countries may try to respond to the exercises, Anokhin said, but he stressed that “the only thing that we may receive as an answer is some moves by the Baltic States, maybe Poland.” However, these countries are not ready to conduct exercises on such a scale, Anokhin added.

Sergey Borisov, RT