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.
Over the past year, military-political relations between Minsk and Kyiv have become complicated. Due to their high inertia and peculiarities, this downward trend would be extremely difficult to overcome.
The root cause of the crisis is the absence of a common political agenda in the Belarusian-Ukrainian relations. Minsk is looking for a market for Belarusian exports in Ukraine and offers its services as a negotiation platform for the settlement of the Russo-Ukrainian war, thereby hoping to avoid political issues in the dialogue with Kiev. Meanwhile, Ukraine is hoping for political support from Minsk in the confrontation with Moscow. In addition, Ukraine’s integration with NATO presupposes her common position with the Alliance in relation to Belarus. The NATO leadership regards the Belarusian Armed Forces as an integral part of the Russian military machine in the western strategic front (the Baltic states and Poland). In addition, the ongoing military reform in Ukraine envisages a reduction in the number of generals and the domestic political struggle makes some Ukrainian top military leaders targets in politically motivated attacks.
Hence, the criticism of Belarus coming from Ukrainian military leadership is dictated primarily by internal and external political considerations, as well as by the need to protect the interests of generals, and only then by facts.
For instance, initially, the Ukrainian military leadership made statements about 100,000 Russian servicemen allegedly taking part in the Russo-Belarusian military drill West-2017. Then the exercises were labelled quazi-open and military observers from Ukraine refused to provide their assessment, which caused a negative reaction in Minsk. Further, without citing specific facts, it was stated that Russia was building up its military presence in Belarus.
Apparently, the Belarusian and Ukrainian Defence Ministries have entangled in a confrontational spiral (on the level of rhetoric). Moreover, only a small part of the overly hidden process has been disclosed. That said, third states are very likely to take advantage of the situation (or have already done so). This is not only about Russia.
The Belarusian Defence Ministry officials are restrained in assessing their Ukrainian counterparts. However, such a restraint is not enough. Current military-political relations between Belarus and Ukraine are unlikely to stabilise without the intervention of both presidents.