Lukashenko strains relations with Kremlin just before signing EEC Treaty
President Lukashenko attempts to increase pressure on the Kremlin ahead of signing the Eurasian Economic Community founding treaty. So far, Belarus has not managed to ensure that Russia will fulfil her promises regarding oil duty exemptions and an intergovernmental loan as declared by Belarus’ president right after the meeting in Moscow. Lukashenko hopes to force his interests in the Kremlin by fuelling tension between Belarus and Russia.
In an interview with the internet channel ‘Dozhd’, President Lukashenko spoke about the ‘insignificant’ referenda in Donbas, and his relations with Putin, Saakashvili and Berezovsky.
The presidents of Belarus, Russia and Kazakhstan are scheduled to sign the Eurasian Economic Community (EEC) founding treaty on May 29th. In early May, after the three presidents met, President Lukashenko announced that he had reached an agreement with President Putin on the most important issues for Belarus. So far, however, these agreements have not been fulfilled.
The Russian government still has to finalise the decision which will set out rules for redistributing oil duties between Minsk and Moscow. Meanwhile, according to the agreements between the Russian and Belarusian leaders, the issue has to be resolved before signing the Eurasian Union founding treaty.
After his visit to Moscow, Belarus’ president also said that an intergovernmental loan from Russia would be allocated for Belarus to support her international reserves: “It will be allocated in May. I think that we will resolve the issue next week”. Meanwhile, in April, Belarus’ gold reserves decreased by USD 238 million and as of May 1st, 2014 totalled USD 5.477 billion, the lowest level since November 2011.
President Lukashenko’s hopes of receiving a USD 2 billion loan from Russia have not materialised. Russia is putting forward rigid conditions for the loan – she wants Belarus to privatise five major state assets in favour of Russian business. However, Belarus is not rushing to privatise state assets. Belarus’ First Deputy Prime Minister Semashko said that Belarus and Russia once again had failed to agree on conditions to merge the MAZ and KAMAZ enterprises.
‘Dozhd’ is one of few Russian media which openly criticises the Russian authorities. On May 21st, President Lukashenko gave an interview to ‘Dozhd’, during which he repeatedly underscored his ties and warm relations with some people who are very badly perceived by the Kremlin.
For example, the Belarusian leader spoke of his friendship with former Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, who is one of the Kremlin’s sharpest critics. President Lukashenko offered political asylum to Saakashvili when a criminal investigation was launched in Georgia. Prior to that, Lukashenko provided a haven to former President Bakiev, who displeased Moscow by allowing a U.S. base to be deployed in Kyrgyzstan. President Lukashenko also expressed his sympathy with former and current opponents of the Russian leadership, for instance, with the deceased oligarch Boris Berezovsky, and opposition politician and popular blogger Alexei Navalny.
In addition, the Belarusian president fully sided with official Kiev’s assessments of the recent referenda in southeast Ukraine held by separatists, which were sharply out of tune with the Kremlin propaganda: “What took place in the ‘republics’ has no meaning whatsoever from a legal point of view. During a recent roundtable, they themselves acknowledged that their referenda have no meaning from a legal viewpoint”.
Overall, ahead of signing the EEC founding treaty, President Lukashenko seeks to win concessions from the Kremlin by sharpening his anti-Kremlin rhetoric. Meanwhile, the Belarusian authorities do not question the signing of the treaty per se, but this integration project might follow the fate of similar post-Soviet integration initiatives.
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.