Official Minsk is attempting to "bridge East and West"
Official Minsk is attempting to become "a bridge between East and West" in order to relieve tension in relations between the Kremlin and Western capitals. President Lukashenka has attempted to become the Kremlin’s ‘interpreter’ for Western audiences and publicly underscored his loyalty to the Kremlin. Amid the upcoming presidential campaign, he has also formulated the terms for a new social contract with the population, which provides for reduced social protection and security in exchange for "peace and stability" in the country.
Last week, President Lukashenka gave an extensive and exclusive interview to the Bloomberg media holding. As always, he made some statements that allow for ambiguous interpretations and were differently highlighted in the western, Russian and Belarusian media.
The Belarusian state-run media, targeting domestic audiences, highlighted President Lukashenka’s exceptional role and efforts in resolving the conflict in Ukraine, maintaining social and economic stability in Belarus and preserving independence and peace in the country. Ahead of the presidential campaign, the president has formulated the new terms for the social contract with the population, which envisages reduced social protection and lower incomes, “Belarusians have long understood that the state’s stability should be the top priority, that peace is the main thing. We can buy everything else. We may be a bit poorer compared with others. We do not have many natural resources to be very rich. But we live in a peaceful country, where our children and elderly will not die from bullets”.
For Western audiences, President Lukashenka attempted to interpret the true motives behind President Putin and the Russian elite’s actions with regard to Ukraine and former Soviet space, “In the West, there is a perception that he (Vladimir Putin) wants an empire restored. He is, in fact, a different person. He will not seek to restore an empire. But if someone will look for trouble and will point fingers in Russia’s direction, or will dangle a stick before eyes, then not only Putin – the Russians have such a mentality – Russia [as a whole] will respond..."
The president said, that the Kremlin would accept a scenario, when Ukraine preserved parts of her eastern regions occupied by the separatists, but with a special status, changed the constitution and restored destructed areas at own costs. According to the president, the Kremlin was also willing to contribute to the conflict de-escalation in the Donets Basin, allowing the Ukrainian authorities to regain control over the eastern border, “and to close the border between Ukraine and Russia. By the way, Russia is not against it.”
The Belarusian authorities are attempting to bring the peace process to a new level by proposing to reduce confrontation between Washington and the Kremlin through direct negotiations:”the United States are playing a crucial role in this process, both, in terms of domestic political processes in Ukraine, and in terms of taking part in negotiations between Russia and Ukraine. This is very important.” The Belarusian government is attempting to play on the Kremlin’s ambitions – according to Minsk, the latter seeks to regain the ‘world power’ status and become a geopolitical player equal to the USA.
In addition, President Lukashenka is seeking to fully isolate his opponents from influencing the agenda of Minsk’s relations with the West. The president in his interview focused on demonstrating the opposition’s weakness and attempted to present himself as the only guarantor of Belarus’ independence. In addition, he underscored that the opposition had abandoned its attempts to change the regime. Interestingly, the Belarusian state-run media has completely ignored President Lukashenka’s statements about the opposition.
Belarus is trying to balance between the ever-growing dependence on Moscow and the pressure from Western capitals to change the political regime by strengthening her positions as “a bridge between East and West”. In addition, the new terms of social contract, proposed by the authorities, do not imply changes in the government policy and ensure the existing socio-economic model is preserved.
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.