Russia has nothing to offer to Belarus for military airbase
On October 6th and 11th, President Lukashenka made statements that he had not agreed to Russia’s plan to deploy a military airbase in Belarus, which means that Lukashenka did not succumb to the information pressure by the Russian authorities. His terms have not changed: Russian weapons should be under the command of the Belarusian authorities and Belarusian specialists should service the military units. Russia’s attempts to put pressure on the Belarusian authorities (i.e. delay of financial aid, information attacks) are likely to fail after the elections – since they have not worked before the elections.
Russia has not offered any benefits to Belarus for her plans to deploy a military airbase in Belarus, namely, the draft agreement between Belarus and Russia on the Russian airbase envisages benefits from the deployment for Russia only. The Russian authorities have counted either on Lukashenka’s vulnerability before the elections or on the sufficiency of the Russian propaganda regarding the deployment of the Russian airbase in Belarus, without the actual need to deploy it.
Politicians and analysts widely believe that Russia has sufficient leverage on the Belarusian leadership to achieve her critical goals. With regard to the airbase issue, it has become obvious that some of these levers have been lost. First, it concerns the gas and oil lever: gas and oil wars between Belarus and Russia have shown that the relationship goes both ways on this issue. In addition, the persistently low world prices for Russian energy have significantly reduced the Belarusian ‘delta’ from the usage of Russian oil and lowered her interest in preserving the price privileges. Moreover, the lower the price of Russian energy, the more Russia is interested in ensuring smooth operations of the Belarusian transit to Europe. Second, the information lever: while the influence of the Russian media on the public opinion in Belarus over general political matters is great, direct information attacks on the Belarusian authorities in 2010 have not brought the expected results.
Russian financial support for the Belarusian economic model plays an important role, albeit only when it is timely. By having held on to a loan until the election day, Russia has prompted Lukashenka to ensure his re-election without the usual promises to Belarusian voters, such as pay rises, social benefits and employment. Clearly, after the elections, Lukashenka’s need for carrots for the electorate will significantly reduce. Moreover, Lukashenka has had the opportunity to probe the loyalty of the power agencies without the promises of wage growth. Overall, if in the future Russia changes her position and offers financial aid to Belarus, which would be far better than the mere loan to pay out previous loans, Lukashenka would make sense of it only in two-three years.
Lukashenka’s stance on the airbase matter, which he outlined in detail at the polling station No1 on October 11th, is very consistent. Belarus is capable of ensuring protection of the Russian military interests in peacetime and therefore does not need a Russian airbase; and in case of a military attack on Russia, Belarus would enforce the agreement on the Russo-Belarusian group of troops.
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.