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.
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.