The Russian Duma elections in the context of Russo-Belarusian relations
The results of the Duma election campaign, and the protests against vote-rigging that sprung up throughout Russia on December 10, will also affect Belarusian-Russian relations. Inside the Duma, the reinforced position of the CPRF and A Just Russia duo could lead to new media conflicts between the Kremlin and Lukashenko.
The results of the Duma election campaign, and the protests against vote-rigging that sprung up throughout Russia on December 10, will also affect Belarusian-Russian relations. Inside the Duma, the reinforced position of the CPRF and A Just Russia duo, which are led by Lukashenko’s main lobbyists, could lead to new media conflicts between the Kremlin and Lukashenko.
One factor which prevented the ruling party United Russia from gaining a constitutional majority, or even a simple majority, was a coordinated information campaign by the non-Kremlin parties, whose key pre-election message called on the electorate to vote for anyone but the ruling party United Russia. Moreover, numerous leaders from the liberal camp made direct calls to vote for their ideological rivals, the Communists, since they had the best chances of getting into the Duma.
This example could serve as an inspiration for the Belarusian opposition but, so far, Belarusian opposition leaders have never really attempted to analyse and adapt their Russian counterparts’ experience.
During the run-up and post-election periods, the duo’s harsh statements regarding America and the international community gave Aleksandr Lukashenko hope that conflicts would resurface between Russia and America. Lukashenko feels that if Russia is opposed to America, it will have greater need of Belarus as a military and political partner, thus allowing him to demand preferential treatment for his loyalty.
To a certain extent, this is a fair assessment. However, the CPRF and A Just Russia’s improved position may induce an undercurrent of conflict between the Kremlin and Lukashenko. This is because Lukashenko’s traditional lobbyists in Russia are concentrated inside those parties. During the years of United Russia’s undivided domination, Lukashenko was forced to refrain from his attempts to enter Russian internal politics, relying mostly on the Kremlin and the duo’s mutual relations. However the CPRF and A Just Russia’s current position will make it very tempting for him to run in the campaign as part of the anti-Kremlin opposition. Such a game will inevitably make the Kremlin embark on a media war, and eventually bring about conflicts in the economic sector. The risks of getting involved in the Russian campaign should prevent Lukashenko from succumbing to temptation, but the rather reckless, careless foreign policies of his eldest son Viktor’s team might make the Belarusian leadership act without due caution.
Last week, Belarusian Foreign Minister Makei participated in the foreign ministers’ meeting of the Eastern Partnership and Visegrad Group initiative hosted by Warsaw. The Belarusian FM emphasized Belarus' interest in cooperation in the transport sector, which could be due to Belarus’ desire to export electricity surplus after Belarus finished construction of the nuclear power plant in Ostrovets. Minsk expressed concerns about Warsaw’s stance on the Belarusian NPP, as it refused to buy electricity from Belarus and supported Vilnius’ protest on this issue. Following accusations by the Belarusian leadership and the state media against western states, including Poland, of training "nationalist militants", Minsk did not agree on the visit of the European Parliament deputies from Lithuania and Germany to Belarus and to the NPP construction site near Ostrovets in particular. In addition, the Belarusian authorities have stepped up efforts to enforce education in Russian in Polish-language schools in Grodno and Vaukavysk. Should a rift in Belarusian-Polish relations persist, the Belarusian authorities are likely to step up the pressure on the Polish-speaking minority in Belarus.