The Russian public lobby is getting stronger in Belarus
The Constituent Assembly of the Public Association \"Eurasian Peoples’ Union\" (EPU) took place in Minsk on March 25. A former director of the Information and Analytical Center of the Academy of Public Administration under the aegis of the President of the Republic of Belarus Yury Baranchik was elected Chairman of the organization.
The establishment of the EPU is another attempt to create a social movement in Belarus which would represent an ideological and geopolitical alternative to European-oriented democratic NGOs. The authorities’ most likely response to this action will be a hidden opposition.
According to the charter of a new and not-yet-registered NGO, the main objective of the EPU is to promote the construction of the Eurasian Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. This initiative is extremely timely, since it occupies a vacant niche in the Belarusian public and ideological support of Eurasian integration. Democratic NGOs operating in Belarus traditionally only support European integration of Belarus.
Voluntary work in the field of Eurasian integration is a new and urgent direction for Belarus. It has been monopolized by a small circle of government officials from the presidential administration mainly on projects of the Union State of Belarus and Russia. After the launch of the Single Economic Space the area of cooperation expanded rapidly, which the EPU made use of. The EPU has already announced plans to promote the state and public partnership between Belarus, Russia and Kazakhstan.
The EPU’s leadership is not associated with the traditional opposition movement and is known for its moderate criticism of the Belarusian authorities. Obviously, the EPU is planning a further transformation into a political organization, but it is also clear that the Belarusian authorities will have their counteraction, since they have no interest in the appearance of uncontrollable social and political actors, especially in the Eurasian area. The first test of the Belarusian authorities’ intentions will be the Ministry of Justice’s response to a registration request from the EPU.
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.