Minsk escalates tension with the Kremlin
In response to Russia’s pressure and stoking tension in relations with the EEU member states, Minsk refuses to demonstrate loyalty to the Kremlin as an ally. The Belarusian authorities have factored out the lingering conflict with Moscow from bilateral relations and taken a toll on the reputation of the Eurasian integration. Minsk has in sight that the Kremlin is unlikely to building-up the crisis and prompt disintegration of the EEU by lowering expectations of the participants in the Kremlin-led initiatives.
Following the Kremlin’s attempts to lower Minsk’s status in the alliance, the Belarusian authorities engage new parties in the conflict among their EEU partners. Minsk reckons that Moscow would mitigate the conflict in order not to frustrate other EEU member states. Meanwhile, Yerevan harshly criticized the Belarusian authorities for extraditing a Russian national to Azerbaijan and appealed to the Kremlin as the guarantor of the compliance with the CIS, EEU and CSTO commitments to put pressure on the ‘ally’.
That said, Russia keeps pressuring Minsk by introducing further restrictions on Belarusian exports to Russia. For instance, the Agriculture Ministry and the Federal Service for Veterinary and Phytosanitary Surveillance failed to discuss the increase in agricultural products supply to Russia from Belarus due to the postponement of the visit of Russian inspectors to Belarus amid the threat of provocations by the Belarusian security forces.
Minsk also decided to wait-and-see and toughened its rhetoric vis-a-vis the Kremlin by accusing the latter of waiving the transparency of the internal borders within the Union State. According to media reports, President Lukashenka postponed a meeting with President Putin within the Summit of the Union State. Apparently, Lukashenka no longer regards the Union State as a mechanism enabling to resolve tension in bilateral relations and is no more interested in the post-Soviet integration associations.
Overall, Minsk reckons that the Kremlin is unlikely to factor out tension from bilateral relations and destabilise the Eurasian integration.
Following crackdown and arrests of participants in the spring protests, the authorities resumed arrests as punishment for participating in street protests in addition to fines, which for some time were the only punishment for political activity. On September 22nd, 2017, the riot police detained the Belarusian National Congress leader Nikolai Statkevich, the opposition politician was placed in detention centre on Akrestin street. On the same day, after serving seven days of arrest, another BNC leader, Vladimir Neklyaev, was released. He was sentenced for organising a street protest on September 8th against the West-2017 exercises. Other participants in the protest have been fined too. The authorities are likely to continue to use fines and arrests against political activists to punish for their protest activity.