Belarus’ authorities step up cooperation with Russian regions

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April 22, 2016 18:51

Traditionally, the Belarusian authorities use Russia’s regional elite’s sympathy towards President Lukashenko to lobby their interests in the Kremlin. President Lukashenko has close ties with the heads of Russian provinces, which helps him to ensure their loyalty, regardless of the state of affairs with the Kremlin. The Belarusian government attempts to hedge against the risk of tensions between Russia and Belarus ahead of the 2015 presidential campaign by increasing its contacts with Russian provinces.

On June 5th, President Lukashenko met with the Speaker of Federation Council (upper house of the Russian federal parliament) Valentina Matvienko and Russia’s regional heads.

The First Forum of Belarusian and Russian Provinces, held in Minsk on June 5th, was devoted to cooperation on agriculture between Belarusian and Russian regions. The Speaker of the Russia’s Federation Council, Valentina Matvienko and more than 200 representatives of 19 Russian provinces attended the Forum. The Forum was not attended by representatives of Kazakh regions, despite the Eurasian Economic Community founding treaty, signed by Belarus, Russia and Kazakhstan in late May.

Interestingly, the Belarusian authorities succeeded in establishing favourable economic cooperation with Russian regions. Despite periodic trade wars initiated by Moscow, Russian provinces are interested in Belarusian producers and businesses increasing their presence. For example, Smolensk province head, Mr. Ostrozhski requested “assistance in farming cross-border lands by Belarusian specialists”. In addition, Russia lists more than 1,000 organizations with Belarusian capital and 58 co-productions of Belarusian equipment.

At the Forum, President Lukashenko talked about the difficulties he encountered during the EaEU’s  creation and blamed them on Moscow: “we have declared that the union will be formed without any exemptions and limitations. At least, in economic terms, it should have been one state. But when we got down to the issues, it appeared that some problems have become massive. Well, it’s no secret – primarily for the Russian Federation. Therefore, on some issues, we even made steps back from the Customs Union”.

Ahead of the presidential elections in Belarus in 2010, the Kremlin initiated an information war against President Lukashenko. As a result, President Lukashenko was prompted to make several significant concessions and signed the documents to create a single economic space with Russia without any significant moves by Moscow towards Belarus. Belarus’ president emphasised the importance of close ties with Russian regions in order to build relations with the Kremlin: “In our relations with Russia, we had difficult times, and if there was no cooperation with Russian regions we would have serious difficulties today”. 

Also, President Lukashenko talked about the need to de-escalate the Russo-Ukrainian conflict: “The new president was elected in Ukraine. I think we will work with the new president, with the new government, because our people live there, people like us - kind, hard working - but who found themselves in this situation. Of course, we can forget about them, but people will suffer even more”.

In the lead-up to the 2015 presidential elections, the Belarusian authorities seek to increase the level of contacts with the Russian regions. The Belarusian president hopes that close ties with the Russian regional elite will mitigate the Kremlin’s pressure during the election campaign.

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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.

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