Lukashenko is trying to force the Kremlin into risks trading
Having not received pecuniary or in kind compensation from the Russian government, Minsk is trying to use ‘risks trading’ tactics against Moscow, inter alia, threatening Moscow with increased migration flows and international terrorism. In these circumstances, the Belarusian authorities have an objective interest in aggravating the situation in the country.
On September 21st, President Lukashenko disclosed details of his visit to Sochi, where he met with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
What Lukashenko said, implies that his meeting with Putin has not managed to solve the most urgent issues of bilateral cooperation, i.e. the resumption of solvents exports from Belarus or coming up with another scheme which could help to maintain a positive foreign trade balance in Belarus. Another conclusion is that negotiations focused on various compensatory mechanisms.
In particular, President Lukashenko said, that first of all, they discussed the issue of prevention of migration from Russia through Belarus to the West. “We discussed the Russo-Belarusian border situation. It is not easy. There is massive illegal migration to Europe. Security officials reported to me they were fed up with catching people with explosives at the border”, he said and noted that Belarus does not have enough resources to fight against this evil. In fact, the Belarusian KGB recently reported about the discovery of a plastids cache near the Polish border and later reported the arrest of an arms dealer in Minsk, who was selling, inter alia, sniper weapons.
Belarusian-Russian relations are complicated by the fact that after the parliamentary election campaign is over Belarus cannot use it anymore as an argument to defer fulfillment of earlier obligations. The next big political campaign (Presidential elections) will be held in 2015. The recent parliamentary campaign has demonstrated that the authorities are in control of the political situation. Therefore the argument about destabilization of the situation in the country by the opposition is weak and is not likely to ‘work out’ in Moscow. On the other hand, Minsk will continue playing ‘hard’ vis-à-vis the Western Europe (will not release political prisoners, will tighten legislation), which is likely to result in non-recognition of the new Parliament’s legitimacy and in complicated negotiations with the IMF.
The Belarusian authorities are not necessarily interested in receiving direct financial assistance from Moscow, but are willing to engage in an exchange of economic preferences in different areas (border, military, immigration). However in such ‘non-material’ bargaining with the Kremlin, Belarus will need to find relevant arguments, for instance, deteriorating of the economic situation in the country and increased security risks. In particular, the National Bank Head recently noted that Belarus is likely to carry out a new (progressive) devaluation.
Considering how openly Lukashenko talked about the need for additional funding to address migration threats, which dramatically increased in recent years, it appears that preservation of these risks is in the Belarusian authorities’ interests: in their view, it will help the efficiency of negotiations with the Russian counterparts. This implies that the overall threats to public safety in Belarus would increase too. In fact, this was a trend after December 19th, 2010 and the Belarusian power forces have a clear interest in maintaining it, since they managed to expand their powers significantly during the past 1.5 years.
Apparently, the threat of high level illegal migration through Belarus will remain high at least until the second half of December 2012, when the next scheduled regular meeting of the Supreme Council of the Union State of Belarus and Russia takes place. Perhaps, Belarus will raise the issue of the renewal of funding for the State Border Committee during that meeting.
In image terms, Belarus benefits from these talks with the Kremlin about overcoming the risks and threats, compared with difficult negotiations on privatization issues. Belarusian authorities are interested in holding both kinds of negotiations simultaneously.
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.