Protracting negotiations is Lukahsenko’s primary tactics
On March 15th, President Lukashenko took part in the meeting of the Supreme State Council of the Union State of Belarus and Russia.
Putin and Lukashenko did not agree about the most important economic issues for Belarus, which means that Belarus will be forced to resume negotiations in early summer. Objectively, this pause increases chances for the Western requirements to be fulfilled by the Belarusian authorities.
During the meeting Presidents Lukashenko and Putin did not agree about the most important matters for Belarus: the new USD 2-billion Russian loans for Belarus and the 2013 oil supply volumes to Belarus. Official reports said the presidents focused on the Union State related issues. The Union state budget is only about USD 160 million.
However, the bilateral talks’ real agenda was known from indirect sources: mergers of Belarusian machine-building, chemical, electronic, technical, and other industries (MAZ, Gomselmash, Grodno Azot, Integral and others). After his meeting with Putin, Lukashenko said that they had discussed the fate of the Belarusian Belaruskali, but had not reached any decision, putting off the issue for later.
The current situation is quite characteristic of both Belarus and Russia in recent years. On the eve of the meeting Q2 2013 oil supplies to Belarus have been signed off (based on Belarus’ request of 23 million tons pa). Thus, Belarus has once again managed to postpone the fulfillment of the requirements set by Russia at least until early summer. However, shorter negotiation periods, synchronized with the signing of the quarterly oil supplies, correspond to the Russian interests. Russia hopes for the partner’s better compliancy in a situation of uncertainty.
Therefore, it is anticipated, that Belarus’ foreign debt payments in 2013 -2014 will force the country’s leadership either to fulfill the Kremlin’s privatization conditions, or to seek for international credit support. The situation is favourable for the Foreign Ministry to continue its active policies regarding Minsk-Brussels-Washington relations, and perhaps, to partially fulfill the EU and the U.S. political demands.
The ‘pending negotiations’ situation makes it possible for President Lukashenko to carry out his usual pendulum policy. Indirect signs of this include the closure of the libel case against Belarusian journalist of the Polish Gazeta Wyborcza Andrej Poczobut on March 15th, and the granted permission to hold opposition demonstration on 24th March by the Minsk City authorities.
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.