Kremlin anticipates raising cost of its support for Lukashenka during elections
Early into the election campaign in Belarus, the Kremlin has already demonstrated support for Lukashenka at political and international levels. However, the Russian leadership has signalled to the Belarusian authorities that their financial support will be very limited at the first stage and only if economic situation seriously deteriorates. Nevertheless, the Kremlin is likely to support Lukashenka regardless of ifs and buts.
Last week, the presidents of Russia and Belarus met in Ufa, where they discussed the Russo-Belarusian relations. During the meeting, the presidents focused on bilateral cooperation in trade, economy and investment, talked about deepening cultural and humanitarian contacts and cooperation within the framework of the Union State of Russia and Belarus, the Customs Union and the Eurasian Economic Union.
In the first days of the presidential campaign in Belarus, the Russian leadership has demonstrated symbolic support for President Lukashenka by stepping up the level of Belarus’ participation in international organisations. For example, at the meeting with Lukashenka, President Putin emphasised that “the issue of upgrading Belarus’ status in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization from a partner for dialogue to observer has been practically settled”.
In response, the Belarusian authorities said they were prepared to enhance their participation in the settlement of the conflict in Ukraine, which, was most likely coordinated with the Kremlin. In particular, in an interview with Russia-24 Foreign Minister Makey said, “We are ready not only to provide the base for negotiations, but also, if necessary, to become the secretariat, as we have been asked by some of our partners”.
Nevertheless, Belarus’ major interest in Russo-Belarusian relations is to receive guarantees of Russia’s support for Belarusian economy during the presidential campaign. While meeting with Putin, Lukashenka emphasised how important it was to resolve bilateral cooperation issues in financial and economic spheres in the near future. “We have long been confronted with this, you – may be not to the same extent as now, – so we need to discuss [...], what further steps we have to make to overcome the negative trends that may occur in the near future”, he said.
According to Putin’s Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov, during the bilateral meeting in Ufa, the presidents also discussed financial and credit cooperation between Minsk and Moscow, however, without detailed consideration. Meanwhile, during the Russian Government meeting, Russian Finance Minister Siluanov confirmed, that Russia was ready to provide financial support for Minsk and transfer the second tranche of the loan – a total of USD 760 million: “[the decision] will be approved today and the transfer will be made in July”.
That said, according to Siluanov, Belarus had requested additional USD 3 billion loan from Russia, allocation of which had been questioned by the Minister: “we shall continue to work on this request, taking into consideration the implementation of the previous programme, which has not been implemented in full”. So far, Belarus has not provided any official comments regarding her request. Most likely, she has warmed up the numbers in order to have some room for manoeuvre during the negotiations.
Official Minsk expects the Kremlin to ‘understand’ and to refinance previous Russian loans, which are due in 2015. In 2015, Moscow has already allocated USD 110 million loan for Belarus to repay the interest on the Russian loan issued in 2010.
Simultaneously, the Kremlin has bolstered pressure on the Belarusian authorities regarding ‘privatisation’ of attractive Belarusian assets by Russian businesses, such as Minsk Wheel Tractor Plant.
The Kremlin intends to support Lukashenka in the elections, even thought it seeks to increase the price of such support. Russia hopes to use Belarus’ economic difficulties to tighten control over the Belarusian economy and privatise the most attractive Belarusian state assets. Nevertheless, Russia is likely to provide the minimum required support for the Belarusian economy regardless of all ifs and buts.
The Belarusian authorities regard the Catholic conference as yet another international event to promote Minsk as a global negotiating platform. Minsk’s proposal to organise a meeting between the Roman-Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church is rather an image-making undertaking than a serious intention. However, the authorities could somewhat extend the opportunities for the Roman-Catholic Church in Belarus due to developing contacts with the Catholic world.
Minsk is attempting to lay out a mosaic from various international religious, political and sportive events to shape a positive image of Belarus for promoting the Helsinki 2.0 idea.
Belarus’ invitation to the head of the Holy See for a meeting with the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church should be regarded as a continuation of her foreign policy efforts in shaping Minsk’s peacekeeping image and enhancing Belarus’ international weight. The Belarusian authorities are aware that their initiative is unlikely to find supporters among the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow. In Russia, isolationist sentiments prevail.
In addition, for domestic audiences, the authorities make up for the lack of tangible economic growth with demonstrations of growth in Minsk’s authority at international level through providing a platform for religious, sportive and other dialogues.