Publically announced reason for delay of Lukashenko's annual message: a signal to the West that he wants to resume dialogue
On April 17, Presidential press office announced the indefinite postponement of the Annual Address of the President to the Parliament and the nation, previously scheduled for April 19. Lukashenko ordered further work on the substance of the message.
The main reason behind the shift is the issue of privatization of Belarusian enterprises. According to presidential press service, Lukashenko demanded to amend the “too liberal” approach to this cornerstone issue for Belarus in the address.
The country’s leadership seeks to circumvent the conditions of cooperation with the EurAsEC Anti-Crisis Fund, which envisages annual sale of state assets at USD 2.5 billion. It is also clear that managers of Belarusian enterprises increasingly fear for their future and, therefore they attempt to form various privatization lobbies. For instance, on April 12, Minister of Transport and Communications Mr. Scherbo said that the Belarusian air carrier “Belavia” could be sold to foreign investors after 2012.
Most likely, after losing in a conflict with Russia on air traffic parity, which has demonstrated Minsk’s incapability to defend its interests, President Lukashenko requires more time for coordination of means to protect Belarusian companies, as well as to neutralize dangerous for the country’s leadership initiatives, such as the one voiced by the Minister Scherbo.
Official reasons for putting off the address confirm our earlier assessment, that there is an acute shortage of exit strategies from the ongoing political and economic crisis.
Alternatively, the amendments to the text would have been made on a working level and not voiced publicly, or referred to different reasons behind the postponement (for instance, President’s working visit, as before).
Therefore, this move looks like a very adventurous and desperate attempt to enlist the support of the West in a trade conflict with Russia. The Press Office also emphasized that the foreign policy section would be amended as well, namely, the rhetoric in respect of foreign partners will be mitigated.
President Lukashenka has met with the head of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov, who visited Minsk and the Minsk Automobile Plant. Minsk has always sought to have independent links with Russian regional elites, partially, to compensate for the Kremlin's diminishing interest in Belarus. In recent years, Belarus’ contacts with the Russian regions have been extremely intense. However, with some leaders of Russian regions, primarily heads of large republics, communication was more difficult to build. As many analysts in Minsk suggested, Minsk could regard contacts between President Lukashenka and the head of Chechnya as an additional communication channel for relieving tension in relations with the Kremlin. However, most likely, a trusting relationship with Kadyrov is a value for Minsk as such, provided Kadyrov’s broad business and political interests, and a high degree of autonomy for the Chechen leader from the Kremlin.