Belarus - EU – Russia trichotomy
The results of the presidential elections in Russia ruled out the small chance the authorities were reckoning on to get Russia involved into the conflict between Belarus and the EU. Not without the pain, the transfer of power took place in Russia and the central government has the legitimacy to adhere to a relatively moderate political policy. Accordingly, the value of Belarus in Russia’s foreign and security policy remains relatively low.
Statement by the Heads of Governments of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia is quite formal, and does not envisage any retaliatory actions on part of Russia and Kazakhstan if the calls for a good will do not have any effect. It is worth to mention that this statement, similar to the joint statement of Lukashenko and Medvedev, focuses exclusively on the threat of economic sanctions, without mentioning the visa issues. Regardless of any declarations, Russia will not get involved in the conflict between Belarus and the EU.
In the meanwhile, the costs of Russian business in Belarus due to the increased threat of economic sanctions against a number of Belarusian enterprises are not necessarily greater than the likely benefits, at least in the short term. Sanctions will trigger a large scale shift of the Belarusian business to Russian jurisdiction. The infrastructure for such transition has been prepared during the currency crisis in the summer of 2011 and the Belarusian authorities had to apply considerable efforts to return foreign currency revenues to Belarus. At the same time, reputational risks increased, as well as problems with settlements with Russian partners of Belarusian business.
All in all, if Russia is not interested in the introduction of European sanctions against Belarus, it has enough leverage on Lukashenko to resolve the conflict. The fact that Russia refrained from action in the Belarusian-European conflict implies that the ratio between costs and gains in a given situation, depending on further development has not yet been assessed unambiguously.
In turn, Belarusian authorities base their policy on “mobilization”, maintaining the status quo in the country. The lack of financial resources, limited ability to buy the loyalty of the ruling class, loss of instruments to protect the interests of the Belarusian population and private business – all that is pushing Minsk towards the escalation of the conflict and increases the tension inside the country. Reserved attitude towards Lukashenko, along with declared by a number of European analysts readiness of Belarus to “return” to the “zone of responsibility” of Russia may induce the ruling group to reconnect with “European lobby”.
President Lukashenka continues to rotate staff and rejuvenate heads of departments and universities following new appointments in regional administrations. Apparently, new Information Minister Karliukevich could somewhat relax the state policy towards the independent media and introduce technological solutions for retaining control over Belarus’ information space. New rectors could strengthen the trend for soft Belarusization in the regions and tighten the disciplinary and ideological control over the student movement in the capital.
President Lukashenka has appointed new ministers of culture and information, the new rector of the Belarusian State University and heads of three universities, assistants in the Minsk and Vitebsk regions.
The new Information Minister Karliukevich is likely to avoid controversial initiatives similar to those former Minister Ananich was famous for, however, certainly within his capacities. Nevertheless, the appointment of Belarusian-speaking writer Karliukevich could be regarded as the state’s cautious attempt to relax environment in the media field and ensure the sovereignty of national media.
The Belarusian leadership has consolidated the trend for mild Belarusization by appointing a young historian and a ‘reasonable nationalist’, Duk as the rector at the Kuleshov State University in Mogilev. Meanwhile, while choosing the head of the Belarusian State University, the president apparently had in mind the strengthening of the ideological loyalty among the teaching staff and students at the main university in order to keep the youth movement at bay. Previously, Korol was the rector of the Kupala State University in Grodno, where he held purges among the disloyal teaching staff.
The trend for the renewal of mid-ranking executives and their rejuvenation has confirmed. The age of the Culture Minister and three new rectors varies from 39 to 44 years old.