Lukashenko continues using the West as an alibi in bargaining with the Kremlin
On November 26th President Lukashenko gave an interview to the “Reuters” news agency.
Alexander Lukashenko is not going to resume political dialogue with the West as in 2008-2010. In addition, Lukashenko is using every opportunity to win additional arguments in complex negotiations with the Kremlin over financial and economic issues.
The main purpose of an interview with “Reuters” was to outline “non-Russian” alibi for the Belarusian authorities in the Belarus’ economic stability matter. In particular, Lukashenko said that Belarus was negotiating with five foreign companies the purchase of Belaruskali shares. The President did not name the companies, but listed the origin of capital: China, India, Europe and some Arab countries.
The Lukashenko’s statement should be primarily regarded as a part of a complex bargaining with the Kremlin about a wide range of economic preferences. Belarus is not necessarily considering the possibility of Belaruskali privatization in favor of the non-Russian capital. More likely, it just uses these companies as arguments in difficult negotiations on a range of issues: oil volumes supply in 2013, concessions in the credit and financial spheres, in the military-technical cooperation, etc.
In particular, on November 12th Lukashenko stated that he was ready to sell a stake in Belaruskali (10-15%), provided that the enterprise value was assessed at USD36 billion. On November 16th, First Deputy Prime Minister Semashko repeated this information at the closing ceremony of the Belarusian Investment Forum in Minsk.
Disregarding the clear political component of these statements, as well as Semashko’s reputation (he is known for making regular statements false statements, beneficial for Belarus), it should be recognized that the Belarusian authorities have moved to a new level of trading shares in state assets. Previously Belarus never talked about selling Belaruskali in small portions (10-15%), thus, we assume that the authorities are seriously concerned about their future and consider small scale actions.
Also, Lukashenko confidently said that he agreed about debt restructure and postponement to 2013, when Belarus will have to pay over USD 3 billon in foreign debts. Very likely, he implied regular postponement of loan payments to Russian Sberbank and hoped for facilitation of the next payment within the EurAsEC Anti-Crisis Fund loan by the Russian authorities.
However, Lukashenko’s statement should be treated, first of all, as political rhetoric, not as a statement of facts. Moreover, it is likely that Lukashenko is bridging “secret” negotiations about the sale of Bealruskali shares with the position of Russian banks and funds (Sberbank and ACF EEC) and is trying to persuade Russia to take a decision favourable for Belarus.
Lukshenko made not a single hint about his readiness to fulfill the basic EU and the U.S. requirements: the release and rehabilitation of political prisoners and political reform. Instead, the Belarusian president has made it clear that he was going to modernize the political system only when he saw the need and in his own way. In practical terms, this means that the current majoritarian electoral system will be preserved in Belarus at least until the next presidential election in 2015.
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.