Lukashenko challenged by isolation
Main challenge the authorities face today is how to ensure external financial support for the Belarusian economy and political support for the regime – ideally – without changing the disposition.
The past week demonstrated that the current demands of the EU (release of political prisoners) are more painful to implement in terms of reputation, but less challenging than Moscow’s demands in terms of preservation of the monopoly on power by the ruling group.
Deterioration of the relations with the EU presumed to a certain extent that Kremlin will get involved in the Belarusian-EU conflict on the side of Belarus, thereby increasing the value of Belarus vis-à-vis Moscow as an ally. As a result, Belarus hoped for concessions by Moscow in terms of economic reforms (privatization and unification of the economic rules within the Customs Union) and for additional financial support.
The EurAsEC Summit demonstrated to Lukashenko that if Europe was not interested in him, he would be of no interest to Kremlin either. If there is no threat of the intensification of the relations between Belarus and the EU, while relative stability is preserved in Belarus, the Kremlin sees no point in applying additional efforts in the current circumstances. Stability of the Russian transit is secured and the sale of Belarusian industry and infrastructure assets becomes a matter of time, which is playing on the side of Russian business (state-owned assets in such circumstances become only cheaper over time). Furthermore, the less Belarus is capable of implementing independent policy towards the EU, the sooner Russian business will be able to take over the financial and logistics schemes.
Consistency of the EU’s expansion of sanctions against the ruling elite is most likely to provoke an increase in ad hoc repressions against civil society and tension on the official level. The logic of the regime suggests that the pressure will continue increasing.
Meanwhile, Minsk sent mixed signals last week. In his traditional manner Lukashenko made it clear that he was prepared to discuss a moratorium on the death penalty. A celebration of the 94th anniversary of the Day of Belarusian People’s Republic (a traditional rally organized by the opposition) passed peacefully. These signals suggest the authorities are not yet ready to abandon plans of normalization of the relations with the EU, regardless of the threats voiced by Lukashenko and the Belarusian Foreign Ministry.
We believe, during the next week or two Lukashenko will be choosing between two options and neither of them is good for him.
President Lukashenka has met with the head of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov, who visited Minsk and the Minsk Automobile Plant. Minsk has always sought to have independent links with Russian regional elites, partially, to compensate for the Kremlin's diminishing interest in Belarus. In recent years, Belarus’ contacts with the Russian regions have been extremely intense. However, with some leaders of Russian regions, primarily heads of large republics, communication was more difficult to build. As many analysts in Minsk suggested, Minsk could regard contacts between President Lukashenka and the head of Chechnya as an additional communication channel for relieving tension in relations with the Kremlin. However, most likely, a trusting relationship with Kadyrov is a value for Minsk as such, provided Kadyrov’s broad business and political interests, and a high degree of autonomy for the Chechen leader from the Kremlin.