Putin and Lukashenko, two despots who need each other

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko met on Friday in the spa city of Sochi for the third time this year. In the previous two times, the previous one was in Moscow, no deal announced. Nor is the content of the topics to be discussed on the table usually advanced. Not even this Friday, despite the forced landing of the Ryanair plane on Sunday for a fake bomb alert and whose objective was none other than to arrest the blocker Roman Protasevich and his partner, the Russian Sofía Sapega, should undoubtedly be the central themes of the talks.

The Kremlin spokesman, Dmitri Peskov, was repeating all day this Friday that Putin and Lukashenko would touch on economic matters and that, “probably”, they would talk about what happened with the Ryanair plane and also Sapega and their right to a ” fair trial”. The meeting had been planned before the scandal broke international for the arrest of Protasevich. But everything was diluted in the context of a secret meeting to address matters of the utmost importance.

As soon as the summit began, Lukashenko promised to show his Russian colleague some documents related to the hijacking of the plane. He denounced «attempts to destabilize the situation in the country with new protests». Putin, for his part, described the world uproar around the air incident as “unbridled emotions” and wanted to make it clear that, apart from this, “today we have something to talk about.”

In statements to Echo Moscow radio, the Belarusian political scientist, Valeri Karbalevich, points out that “the true reasons for the meeting will not come to light.” “I do not think that important decisions or crucial statements can be expected. I think the meeting will end in the same way as the previous two this year. Namely, no information will be provided substantial on the essence of the negotiations, “considers the political scientist. In his opinion, between the two heads of state “there is a complicated negotiation on very important issues, but, for now, they do not want to take them out into the public space.” Karbalevich believes that “if the press services provide any information it will be in general terms, on issues of cooperation, energy or integration.” Indeed, this was the note distributed by the Kremlin.

At the heart of the matter, the issue that Moscow has not yet managed to resolve is the permanently postponed creation of the Russian-Belarusian “Unitary State”, which, if completed, would be a covert annexation from Belarus. The motives that Putin is pursuing are defensive in nature, since he would control the corridor that leads to Poland, leaving the Baltic republics to the north and Ukraine in the southern part.

All of them members of NATO or related. The advantage for the Kremlin would be, not only strategic, but of image before its own population by showing that Russia would dominate Crimea, eastern Ukraine, part of Georgia and Belarus. The advantages that Minsk would obtain would be economic, commercial, access to credit , debt refinancing, plus cheap oil and gas.

The Russian-Belarusian Union

Lukashenko, the initial promoter of the Russian-Belarusian union, ended up turning his back on Moscow, to the point that many in Russia believed that the project was nothing more than a ploy to obtain perks without the slightest intention of giving up sovereignty. . Lukashenko and Putin’s predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, pompously initialed in the Kremlin, on December 8, 1999, the agreement for creation from a unitary state, it was the fourth document after three previous unsuccessful attempts. He envisaged the creation of a confederal structure with the same economic and defense policy and with a single currency.

The signing was preceded by a great controversy on the part of those who in Russia feared joining a state led by a despot like Lukashenko and also by Belarusian nationalists who refused to re-form. part of the ‘Russian empire’. The idea, once all political, legal and economic issues had been agreed, was to reform the Constitution of both countries and approve the final document in popular consultations.

But the project was left unfinished. That yes with some advances. Taking the European Union as a reference, they created a common economic space and eliminated border and customs controls, which later ended up reestablishing themselves. Moscow, however, imposed an embargo on some Belarusian products, meat for example, did not want to lower the price of oil and gas to its neighbor and did not want to restructure its debt.

Several factors already degraded the relations between the two countries: the refusal of the Belarusian president to privatize his state-owned companies in favor of Russian corporations, the refusal to recognize Crimea as Russian territory, the rapprochement of Minsk to the West and, as a consequence of it, the visa removal for citizens of the European Union and the United States on short visits to Belarus. Russia also repeatedly accused Lukashenko of profiting from Moscow’s sanctions on the EU, using the advantages of the free trade zone with Russia to become a transit point for banned goods.

Putin repeatedly pressed Lukashenko to finalize the desired “integration” of Belarus once and for all. The Belarusian president himself repeatedly denounced such pressure. In December 2019, on the occasion of 20th anniversary of the signing By Yeltsin and Lukashenko of the base document, the Kremlin tried once again to bring the “union” to completion, but also without success.

A new attempt occurred in February 2020 in Sochi with the opening of a new round of negotiations. They called it “the moment of truth,” but it didn’t catch on either. Lukashenko did not want to lose sovereignty and relations with Moscow cooled much more. In early August last year, on the eve of the presidential elections whose manipulation sparked the largest wave of protests ever seen in Belarus, Lukashenko accused Moscow of send mercenaries to his country to destabilize the situation ahead of the elections. But the protests turned things around and threw the Belarusian dictator into Putin’s arms. Now the airplane crisis has only strengthened even more if possible Lukashenko’s dependence on his friend Putin.

The EU reminds Minsk of the 3,000 million in aid

Brussels will write a check for 3 billion euros to Belarus if it changes its political course. The European Commission presented it this Friday without signing (it requires the authorization of the Twenty-seven); in full escalation of tensions with the former Soviet republic over the forced landing in Minsk of a Ryanair plane and the arrest of opposition journalist Roman Protasevich and his partner. The isolation of its airspace, individual sanctions and companies linked to the regime (some in the making will affect strategic sectors such as the export of potash) are the punishment response. The multimillion-dollar aid that is now being proposed is the ‘carrot’ with which it is intended to spur the democratic transition in the country and the end of the satrap government of Aleksánder Lukashenko.

“We are sending a double message. To the people of Belarus: we see and hear your desire for change, democracy and a bright future. And to the Belarusian authorities: that no repression, brutality or coercion will bring legitimacy to its authoritarian regime “, stressed President Ursula von der Leyen who insisted on the essential objective of the measure:” when Belarus begins its peaceful democratic transition, the EU will be there to accompany her.

And how will you do it? With political backing and an economic package that combines direct grants and loans with public and private investments that would help stabilize its economy, reform its institutions, encourage growth and generate employment.

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