Belarus raises stakes in anticipation of Kremlin negotiations
At a press conference with Russian regional journalists, Lukashenko said that the Rosbelavto holding (which may merge Belarusian MAZ and Russian KAMAZ) would not go ahead unless the terms will benefit Belarus.
Russo-Belarusian relations saw no substantial progress in resolving the existing problems and implementing joint projects. The Belarusian government gathers arguments to strengthen its position in negotiations with the Kremlin and waits for the right moment to start bargaining. By blackmailing Putin with sabotaging Eurasian integration, Belarus hopes for some concessions.
Currently, all the joint projects involving Russian investment in major Belarusian assets have been suspended. Back in September, during the ‘potash conflict’, KAMAZ CEO Sergey Kogoghin refused to come to Minsk for talks about MAZ and KAMAZ merger. Meanwhile, MAZ has been losing its investment appeal on the world market, and the Russian market, the latter of which is more important.
According to Belarus’ First Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Semashko, other integration projects, such as the merger of Belarusian Integral with Russian Roselektronika, Grodno Azot with Russian Gazprom and EuroChem, Peleng with Russian Roskosmos, have stalled at the working group stage. At the same time, Semashko said that the era of cheap energy for Belarus was over, and that in a few years Belarus would pay world prices for energy.
The main problem today in Russo-Belarusian relations, i.e. the ‘potash conflict’, has not been solved. Despite Russian and Belarusian presidents meeting three times in September, no agreement had been reached about Uralkali. Putin’s visit to Belarus for joint military exercises in late September has changed the restraint measure to Vladislav Baumgertner from arrest to house arrest. However, to date, Uralkali’s CEO is still in Minsk under house arrest. Nevertheless, on October 18th, Russia lifted restrictions on pork imports from some Belarusian enterprises.
Belarus wanted to negotiate oil supply from Russia in Q4 2013 and in 2014 at the Ministerial meeting of the Union State in Moscow on September 17th, but the meeting was postponed. Russia says Belarus has not yet submitted its proposal for Russian oil supply in 2014 to the Russian Energy Ministry.
Meanwhile, Belarus has ratcheted up pressure on the Russian leadership by questioning the feasibility of Putin’s Eurasian integration project.
Before his official visit to Astana, Lukashenko spoke against the Eurasian Union plan - a single currency and political superstructure. The Belarusian president said that ‘above all, Russia will have to do what it has promised. Otherwise, on January 1st, 2015 the Eurasian Economic Union will not be created’.
On September 25th, at the EurAsEC Heads of Governments’ meeting in Astana, Belarusian Prime Minister Mikhail Myasnikovich also rigidly talked about Eurasian Union prospects, ‘Frankly speaking, maybe due to the lack of information, we do not quite understand what we need it for’.
During a recent meeting with students in Mogilev, Lukashenko reiterated his rhetoric about the value of the sovereignty and independence, ‘we tell our brotherly Russia, “yes, you are our people, we all look the same and you are our Russian brothers, but this land is Belarusian” and ‘the future is in the individual sovereign states and nations’”.
Belarus hopes to strengthen its position vis-à-vis the Kremlin ahead of the Eastern Partnership Summit, where Ukraine is supposed to sign the Association Agreement and the free trade Agreement between Ukraine and the EU. Lukashenko emphasized the importance of the issue for Russo-Belarusian relations, ‘Ukraine has the right to choose which way to go, and we have the right to understand Ukraine’s right, since it is a sovereign and independent state’.
Belarus hopes to restore an acceptable level of Russian support by the time the election campaign starts in 2015 without having to sell state property.
The Belarusian authorities regard the Catholic conference as yet another international event to promote Minsk as a global negotiating platform. Minsk’s proposal to organise a meeting between the Roman-Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church is rather an image-making undertaking than a serious intention. However, the authorities could somewhat extend the opportunities for the Roman-Catholic Church in Belarus due to developing contacts with the Catholic world.
Minsk is attempting to lay out a mosaic from various international religious, political and sportive events to shape a positive image of Belarus for promoting the Helsinki 2.0 idea.
Belarus’ invitation to the head of the Holy See for a meeting with the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church should be regarded as a continuation of her foreign policy efforts in shaping Minsk’s peacekeeping image and enhancing Belarus’ international weight. The Belarusian authorities are aware that their initiative is unlikely to find supporters among the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow. In Russia, isolationist sentiments prevail.
In addition, for domestic audiences, the authorities make up for the lack of tangible economic growth with demonstrations of growth in Minsk’s authority at international level through providing a platform for religious, sportive and other dialogues.