Minsk deliberately strains relations with the Kremlin
On May 6th Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev visited Minsk and met with President Lukashenko and discussed the security and military cooperation issues.
Patrushev’s visit indicates that the Belarusian authorities carry on negotiations with Russia on defense cooperation matters. The statement about the likely deployment of Russian aviation regiment in Belarus should be considered as a stake in the negotiations, and not as a concluded deal.
Patrushev’s urgent visit to Minsk implies that the Belarusian authorities found the opportunity to delay (or review) the implementation of previous agreements, partially announced earlier in Minsk by Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu (the plans to deploy Russian military air base in Belarus). Patrushev plays a ‘crisis manager’s’ role in the Russo-Belarusian relations: he was in Minsk in March 2012, when Belarus-EU diplomatic relations had sharply deteriorated and was able to at least mitigate President Lukashenko’s rhetoric ahead of the presidential elections in Russia.
It is likely that Lukashenko’s statement on April 26th, that the deployment of the Russian air base in Belarus was merely a plan for the future and that negotiations concerned only the fighters’ supply, had been assessed by the Kremlin as worthy of a response. In particular, the day before Patrushev’s visit, a telephone conversation between Presidents Lukashenko and Putin took place, during which they discussed, inter alia, certain “problematic issues” of bilateral relations.
From Belarus’ point of view, these issues include: the signing of the Russian oil supply balance for Q3 and Q4 2013, as well as the provision of a USD 2 billion loan by Russia. Belarus must have insisted on the indirect inclusion of these “problem issues” in a package of agreements on bilateral defense cooperation. After the meeting with Patrushev, President Lukashenko said that Belarus and Russia had no difficulties in security and military cooperation spheres.
As already noted, the upcoming presidential election in 2015 force Lukashenko to improve his electoral rating and therefore refer to inviolability of the Belarusian sovereignty in this regard. Therefore, the negotiations with Russia on the military-technical cooperation are likely to be delayed by at least 2 years. Currently the procrastination of the negotiations is playing into Lukashenkos’ hands, and he can use the “Kremlin threat” as a tool to strengthen its domestic positions and, potentially, to soften relations with the West.
Negotiating traditions of the Belarusian ruling group make procrastinated negotiations a positive factor that stretches the room for maneuver and raises the negotiators’ status. Namely, the Belarusian authorities often deliberately deteriorate relations with their counterparts, which in their view wideness the scope of “problematic issues” (unfulfilled commitments). These practices also enable Lukashenko from time to time to hold away the negotiators he lost confidence of.
Therefore, President Lukashenko’s actions should not be considered only from the point of view of the ongoing political expediency in 2013, but through the lens of Belarusian political traditions over the past decades. Lukashenko acts largely by inertia; in particular, he regards the increased attention by the Kremlin as a personal success. Thus, he had definitely perceived the recent conversation with Putin and Patrushev’s visit as an achievement.
During searches of social and "green" activists and anarchists, law enforcement has seized computers, mobile phones and publications. The authorities have also exerted additional pressure on supporters of unauthorized street protests and independent lawyers, who represented defendants in the White Legion case. The security services have stepped up the persecution of opponents before the street protests announced by the opposition. Apparently, the Belarusian authorities aspire that participants in street protests would reduce in number and that the low interest of the population to socio-political agenda before the local election campaign would retain.