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.
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.