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 could to step up the opposition representation in local councils, should party members demonstrate potency. The Belarusian leadership is unlikely to have the resources to ensure 100 percent pro-government candidates in the local elections. The authorities have exhausted the grassroot support and have no funds to pay for the loyalty.
The Belarusian Central Election Commission has proposed to hold the elections to the local Councils of Deputies on February 18th, 2018.
The president has repeatedly emphasised the importance of the local councils in the power system and the state machine always tried to ensure the necessary local election results. Candidates have been decreasing in number with each elections and the authorities dealt with that by reducing the deputy corps. That said, during the rule of President Lukashenka, his electoral base has changed substantially. Over the past decade, most Belarusians have moved to cities and lost their local roots. The rural population is ready to support the president, but rural residents are constantly decreasing in number.
The Belarusian leadership is likely to permit broad participation in the election campaign and an increase in alternative representatives in the local councils. However, the opposition would have to boost its activity, so as so far it has been passive in defending its interests. In addition, the authorities, while determining the date for the local elections, have taken into account the fact that the opposition is usually the least active in the winter time.
Overall, both, the opposition and the local authorities have exhausted their grassroot support, however new local leaders may still come on political stage, although the party opposition has not yet shown sufficient aspirations.