Putin’s Visit Demonstrates that Geopolitical Choice is Inevitable
Putin’s visit to Belarus on May 30 has been presented as evidence of primary importance of post-Soviet integration for the leaders of Belarus and Russia. In the near future, cooperation between Belarus and Russia will continue to be relatively conflict free. However, Russia’s support of Belarus will not go beyond what is necessary to maintain a minimal stability.
Within the international context, Putin’s first foreign visit to Belarus, after which he will make short visits to Berlin and Paris, is associated with his refusal to join the G8 summit in Camp David.
The visit is also linked to Putin’s first decree as President on the measures for the implementation of foreign policy, which prioritises the relations with Belarus and integration within the EurAsEC Customs Union.
The visit was staged by the Russian side. Its format of a Lord’s visiting his land was supported by the Belarusian side. It should be stressed that while Putin was listing the topics for discussion with the Belarusian party, it looked as if the previously prepared list had little to do with the actual subject of conversation with the Belarusian side.
Meanwhile, topics prepared in advance, namely, the allocating of a long-awaited third tranche of the EurAsEC loan of USD440 million, two contracts for the loan to finance the preparatory work for the construction of the Belarusian nuclear power plant (USD204 million + USD285 million) indicate quite extensive and positive developments in the current situation.
No conflict issues such as trade of oil and petroleum products without paying customs duties to the Russian budget or delays in privatisation have been publically discussed. It is likely that they have not been seriously considered at all.
The major objectives of the visit were mostly of symbolic character: to demonstrate close ties and alliance. After a break, Putin faces difficulties in his third term of presidency.
The consequences of the pre-election boost of the economy, drop in oil prices, decline in the authority of official establishment within the Russian political account for an emergent need to focus the foreign policy on the immediate environment. In the international arena, Russia has only to be engaged in minor attacks and boycott advances of major actors’ interests.
The trend of expansion is logically replaced by the trend of defense. The value of an ally that fully guarantees observation of major Russian interests on his territory grows. For a certain time, it allows not to notice minor mischief and treat it as a payment in exchange for loyalty in controversial issues.
Lukashenko is now in a similar situation. His tasks are to keep power and strengthen his authority within the country, which does not leave him any possibilities for even a little transformation. Consequently, it increases his dependence on Russia’s economic support and deprives him of freedom to maneuver in his foreign policy.
It is evident that for some time Russia and Belarus will keep an agreement on major issues of cooperation. However, it does not rule out minor disputes over how soon Belarus will join the regulatory norms and standards of the Customs Union or over the privatisation of the Belarusian enterprises.
Russia will continue to provide a limited financial aid for the Belarusian economy sufficient to maintain social stability in the country. However, the financing can not provide for the modernization of economy, increase in wages and salaries to such a level that can be compared to Russia. Such a short leash will encourage the Belarusian leadership to seek alternative opportunities.
President Lukashenka continues to rotate staff and rejuvenate heads of departments and universities following new appointments in regional administrations. Apparently, new Information Minister Karliukevich could somewhat relax the state policy towards the independent media and introduce technological solutions for retaining control over Belarus’ information space. New rectors could strengthen the trend for soft Belarusization in the regions and tighten the disciplinary and ideological control over the student movement in the capital.
President Lukashenka has appointed new ministers of culture and information, the new rector of the Belarusian State University and heads of three universities, assistants in the Minsk and Vitebsk regions.
The new Information Minister Karliukevich is likely to avoid controversial initiatives similar to those former Minister Ananich was famous for, however, certainly within his capacities. Nevertheless, the appointment of Belarusian-speaking writer Karliukevich could be regarded as the state’s cautious attempt to relax environment in the media field and ensure the sovereignty of national media.
The Belarusian leadership has consolidated the trend for mild Belarusization by appointing a young historian and a ‘reasonable nationalist’, Duk as the rector at the Kuleshov State University in Mogilev. Meanwhile, while choosing the head of the Belarusian State University, the president apparently had in mind the strengthening of the ideological loyalty among the teaching staff and students at the main university in order to keep the youth movement at bay. Previously, Korol was the rector of the Kupala State University in Grodno, where he held purges among the disloyal teaching staff.
The trend for the renewal of mid-ranking executives and their rejuvenation has confirmed. The age of the Culture Minister and three new rectors varies from 39 to 44 years old.