Kremlin curbs public and financial support for Lukashenka
Regardless of the urgent need in loans for the Belarusian economy, the Kremlin has refrained from direct public and financial support for Lukashenka in the ongoing election campaign. In addition, from time to time, the Russian government has used information and other pressure on the Belarusian leadership, hoping to push for a Russian military base deployment in Belarus. After the presidential elections, tensions between Minsk and Moscow may rise.
Russian Ambassador to Belarus Alexander Surikov has expressed the opinion that Belarus may keep oil duties in her budget in 2016.
The Russian government has neither demonstrated public support for President Alexander Lukashenka in the election campaign, nor has it applied serious informational pressure on the Belarusian leadership. Chairman of the Federation Council of the Federal Assembly Valentina Matviyenko said that Russia was curious about the outcome of the presidential elections in Belarus, but would remain neutral to all participants. “Russia adds importance to the victory of an adequate candidate, who will be able to continue to pursue and consolidate Russo-Belarusian relations, who will continue to build the Union State and the Eurasian Economic Union”, she said.
The Kremlin has only stated that it will continue providing financial support for the Belarusian authorities in the future – without issuing new loans to Belarus in the pre-election period, when she needs them so much. For instance, Russian Ambassador to Belarus Alexander Surikov has expressed confidence that the Eurasian Fund for Stabilization and Development will provide a new loan to Belarus, however, he did not specify the date and the possible amount.
In addition, Ambassador Alexander Surikov has confirmed that the agreement regarding Belarus keeping the total volume of export duties on oil products from Russian raw materials will be extended to 2016. Moreover, according to deputy director general of the Belarusian Oil Company Grib, Minsk and Moscow have prepared the agreement for the supply of 24 million tons of Russian oil to Belarus in 2016, which is 1 million tonnes more than in 2015.
Meanwhile, the Belarusian authorities have no means to keep the current level of prosperity and employment in the pre-election period. Since early 2015, real wages have decreased in the regions and in Minsk. In August, the average wage in Belarusian roubles has reduced and in US Dollars it has decreased by USD 206 since the beginning of the year. The number of employees on unpaid leave has tripled over the year.
Apparently, the Kremlin links the provision of credit and other support to Minsk with the deployment of a Russian military air base in Belarus. The Belarusian government, however, is afraid that stronger Russian military presence in the country may reduce the opportunities to play on the contradictions between the Kremlin and the West, and may have a negative impact on the dynamics of Belarusian-European relations.
That said, the Russian government has initiated another campaign against agricultural imports from Belarus: Rosselkhoznadzor asked to clarify the origin of some goods from the sanctions list delivered to Russia from Belarus.
The probability is high that tensions between official Minsk and the Kremlin may rise after the presidential elections – over the deployment of a Russian military air base in Belarus.
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.