Belarusian negotiations with Russia on strategic assets become tougher
On 18 July President Lukashenko met with the leadership of the Boulle Mining Group. During the meeting they talked about the possible involvement of the Group in the exploration and development of potash deposits in Belarus.
Belarusian President raises the stakes while bargaining for the main privatization asset, “Belaruskaliy”, as well as for other assets to be sold to Russia. As a consequence, there might be a med-term decrease in the selling price of Belarusian assets, and a short-term increase of political pressure on Belarus by Russia.
Following the meeting with businessmen from the Boulle Mining Group, President Alexander Lukashenko made it clear that he considers the Belarusian mineral wealth as a separate asset, which could be privatized, regardless of the sale of the shares of “Belaruskaly”. Thereby the President has demonstrated that he was ready to play on the contradictions between the interests of Russian and Western business.
However the economic crisis that Belarus faces today affects prices of strategic assets. For instance, the launch of the Russian gas pipeline “Nord Stream” will allow “Gazprom” to ignore proposals of the President of Belarus to link the sale of the remaining package of “Beltransgaz” with preferential gas prices in 2012.
The actions of the Belarusian President provoked an immediate backlash by Russia. On 19 July Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin expressed regret about rising tensions between Russia and Belarus, as well as about human rights violations. On the next day, Russian Ambassador Alexander Surikov in an interview with an independent news agency “BelaPAN” emphasized that the sale of assets should not be linked to energy prices.
Vladimir Putin consolidated with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, who earlier expressed sharp criticism of Alexander Lunaksenko and his inability to negotiate. As a consequence of the unified position of the top management of the Russian Federation on the Belarusian issue, Russia will take a tougher position during the negotiations on the price of Belarusian assets with energy prices as an adjunct.
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.