Immediate future of Belarus-EU “dialogue”
Alexander Lukashenko sees no immediate need in a dialogue with the West however he is planning to release all political prisoners and to negotiate the approval of the IMF loan with the US and EU to survive until the New Year.
He has no further plans therefore as soon as he receives the loan (at least USD 1.5 billion), his “geopolitical” and “liberal/repressive" moods will swing in the opposite direction.
Last week’s public appearances of Alexander Lukashenko spotlighted his vision of the situation and his plans and expectations vis-?-vis the West. Lukashenko hopes that:
- references to threats from Russia,
- release of political prisoners,
- a round table between representatives of quangos and the opposition,
- introduction of a supplementary session on the Belarusian Currency and Stock Exchange
would be sufficient for the approval of the IMF loan for Belarus by the EU and the USA.
The Head of state, nevertheless, is not interested in a dialogue with the West as he has no idea (except for cancellation of visa restrictions) what to expect from it. However he would like to mitigate the political climate in the relations with the West, in the first place, to continue bargaining with Moscow for fringe benefits, and secondly, in order to expand opportunities for international lending to the Belarusian economy.
He unequivocally declared that he was not interested in political and real economic transformations. His advisors believe that transformations would further undermine his authority, which is not in the best shape at the moment. Lukashenko also sees no reason for real transformations, as it would weaken his position domestically, while benefits are hypothetical by nature.
Therefore he is not even trying to imitate transformations, he relies purely on the imagination of European politicians and the opposition, hoping that sacred words “dialogue”, “round table”, “rapprochement”, “privatization”, etc will trigger a chain of associations and will be perceived as a starter pistol. If there are no counter-proposals, he will send a behind the scenes hint inviting for couloirs negotiations via his security forces and ideology workers.
According to estimates of the ruling group, about USD 1-1.5 billion is needed in order to keep going before the sale of Beltransgaz to Gazprom and a new round of negotiations with Russia. The authorities have high expectations regarding these talks and their success is conditioned inter alia by the “European” stake however the main goal is to move to the next phase of the Customs Union. That is why there is “time pressure”, the money is needed now otherwise the National Bank will not be able to intervene at the supplementary session.
Last week, Belarusian Foreign Minister Makei participated in the foreign ministers’ meeting of the Eastern Partnership and Visegrad Group initiative hosted by Warsaw. The Belarusian FM emphasized Belarus' interest in cooperation in the transport sector, which could be due to Belarus’ desire to export electricity surplus after Belarus finished construction of the nuclear power plant in Ostrovets. Minsk expressed concerns about Warsaw’s stance on the Belarusian NPP, as it refused to buy electricity from Belarus and supported Vilnius’ protest on this issue. Following accusations by the Belarusian leadership and the state media against western states, including Poland, of training "nationalist militants", Minsk did not agree on the visit of the European Parliament deputies from Lithuania and Germany to Belarus and to the NPP construction site near Ostrovets in particular. In addition, the Belarusian authorities have stepped up efforts to enforce education in Russian in Polish-language schools in Grodno and Vaukavysk. Should a rift in Belarusian-Polish relations persist, the Belarusian authorities are likely to step up the pressure on the Polish-speaking minority in Belarus.