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Sep 2, 2021
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Union State: Putin brings Lukashenko under article

Photo: Russian President Vladimir Putin and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko (from right to left) during a meeting.

Photo: Russian President Vladimir Putin and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko (right to left) during a meeting. (Photo: Alexey Nikolsky / Russian Presidential Press Service / TASS)

Presidents of Russia and Belarus Vladimir Putin and Alexander Lukashenko will meet in Moscow on September 9. According to the press service of the Belarusian leader, the date of the meeting was agreed upon during a telephone conversation between the heads of state on the morning of August 30. The meeting between Lukashenko and Putin was confirmed by the official representative of the Russian president Dmitry Peskov

Lukashenko and Putin intend to discuss the union programs prepared by the governments of the two countries, as well as other topical issues on the bilateral agenda and international issues.

Some interesting details of the upcoming meeting were revealed by the Ambassador of Belarus to Russia Vladimir Semashko: leaders will sign all roadmaps for the integration of the two countries within the Union State.

“We, thank God, are at the finish line three years later, when only one of 28 cards is left. The latter, I think, we will press on the 7th (September), and on the 9th the presidents will meet in Moscow, where all the cards for the development of deepening integration will be signed, ”the diplomat said at a meeting with the Governor of the Voronezh Region Alexander Gusevs and vice speaker of the State Duma Alexei Gordeev

But what about the notorious 31st card, which talks about the creation of supranational political structures? Has everyone forgotten about her?

In early July, Lukashenko proposed to develop a strategy for integration with Russia within the framework of the Union State until 2030. He noted that the union of the two countries is a value that must be passed on to future generations.

A month earlier, the Russian Ambassador to Belarus Evgeny Lukyanov reported that Moscow and Minsk have already agreed on 27 out of 28 roadmaps, and the Prime Minister of Belarus Roman Golovchenko told that Belarus had endorsed and handed over to Russia projects of 26 integration roadmaps.

And again, nowhere is there a word about 31 cards and political integration. It seems that the issue has been removed from the agenda altogether. It turns out that it was not possible to “bend” Lukashenko, even despite his extremely unenviable and precarious position both domestically and in the international arena after last year’s elections and the defeat of the opposition, as well as with the landing of an airplane from Roman Protasevich

Well, then what to negotiate about?

Let us remind you that during a telephone conversation with Lukashenko, Putin congratulated his Belarusian colleague on his birthday and promised constant support of the “Belarusian friends” from Russia.

Should this be understood as a statement that Moscow will support Lukashenka under any circumstances, demanding nothing in return?

Putin also praised Lukashenko’s contribution to strengthening allied relations between Russia and Belarus and thanked for the efforts to integrate in the Eurasian space.

“I have no doubt that by joint efforts we will continue to build up Russian-Belarusian ties in various directions in every possible way,” the Russian leader emphasized.

What are the efforts? Is it not Lukashenka who has been hindering integration all these years? And what can we expect from the upcoming meeting against such a background? Regular assurances of friendship and unity of peoples?

– Breakthroughs in Belarusian-Russian relations, namely the signing of the notorious integration roadmaps, are expected with enviable regularity since 2019, if not earlier, – reminds Stanislav Byshok, Candidate of Political Science, Executive Director of the International Monitoring Organization CIS-EMO.

– And they don’t happen with enviable regularity. Probably, miracles also take place in life, but for peace of mind it is better to be a pessimist in this direction.

“SP”: – According to the ambassador, Lukashenko and Putin will sign all roadmaps for the integration of Belarus and Russia. Seriously? And the 31st?

– In the last year and a half, Belarusian political commentators close to the official Minsk insisted that the issue of creating real supranational governing bodies of the Union State, which is precisely regulated by the 31st card, has been removed from the agenda. I think this should be the starting point.

“SP”: – How do you think the relations between Moscow and Minsk have changed over the past year? Can we say that many contradictions have been resolved?

– Official Moscow has established itself in the opinion that hostile Western forces are behind all the general civil protests in the post-Soviet space, including Belarus, so it is necessary to support the one who is actually in power, even if it causes more and more irritation.

As far as I know, the Kremlin did not even make symbolic attempts to contact the Belarusian opposition against the background of the peak of protests last summer and autumn. Lukashenka, for his part, sighed with relief.

“SP”: – Putin promised his “Belarusian friends” constant support of Russia. Does this mean that Moscow makes it clear to Lukashenka that it will support him to the end under any circumstances? How important is this support for the stability of the Belarusian regime, both domestically and internationally?

– The Kremlin is concerned about the security of the country. The danger, from the point of view of the conventional “men from the Security Council,” came and continues to come from Western democracies, which arrange color revolutions on the periphery of Russia and want to do something similar in Moscow. Belarus is perceived here as the last bastion – and even though the elections there are even more dubious than the Russian ones, the government is many times more repressive. Lukashenko is guarding the old Smolensk road – and as long as the Kremlin is convinced that he remains in this capacity, support will be provided to him.

The opinion of the Belarusian – or, by the way, the Russian – civil society is not taken into account.

“SP”: – Do we have where else to get closer? Do “red lines” remain, beyond which Lukashenka will not allow entering? What else can Moscow ask for support?

– Integration in security issues, understood as broadly as possible, is being done very well by Moscow and Minsk, largely due to the fact that the concept of a besieged fortress is popular in both capitals. More precisely: two fortresses.

Of course, Moscow would be interested in opening Belarus for Russian business, in particular in terms of the privatization of Belarusian enterprises. Russian and Belarusian producers of potash fertilizers are still more competitors than partners in world markets.

The “red lines” for Lukashenka are associated with his personal power in the designated territory. At the same time, it should be borne in mind that over thirty years “red lines” have appeared in the Belarusian society itself – a society close to the Russian one, but not identical to it.

Political scientist Evgeny Valyaev I am also sure that no breakthroughs should be expected at the meeting, since the tasks facing Putin and Lukashenka are completely different.

– Minsk faces the task of delaying the process of deepening integration between the countries. The President of Belarus will find other topics to shift the focus.

Lukashenko, during a telephone conversation with Putin, began to throw in the topic of discussing Afghanistan – that it is necessary to work out a common position and coordinate actions within the framework of the CSTO. The Belarusian president is ready to discuss climate change, the Afghan conflict, maybe even the results of the Olympics – whatever he wants so as not to move on to the topic of deepening integration, especially the political part.

Lukashenka succeeds in delaying the negotiation process, while receiving new credit lines, as well as preferential prices for energy resources. At the meeting of the two presidents on July 13, they agreed on the gas price for Belarus. It was decided not to index the gas price. Although, for example, prices for the Russian consumer were indexed upward. This was justified by the fact that Gazprom’s losses were growing against the background of the crisis.

The Russian consumer covers not only the losses of Gazprom, but also buys Lukashenka’s loyalty for Moscow. Nobody asked people about it. It is unlikely that there would be people who would voluntarily pay the tax on Lukashenka. And such a tax has been imposed on Russians for many years. Previously, Soviet people paid a tax to support union regimes around the world, the same practice has come down to us in the form of union Belarus under Lukashenko.

After the Western sanctions, which have been strengthened many times over due to the emergency landing of the Ryanair plane in Minsk, the cost of Minsk’s loyalty is only growing. Moscow has to pay for all the losses of Lukashenka. Moscow has already opened a credit line for Minsk in the amount of 110 billion rubles. It may seem that this is not such a tangible figure for the Russian budget, but it is not. For example, in 2021, 78 billion rubles will be spent on payments in connection with the birth of the first and second children. During the pandemic, 78 billion rubles were also spent on incentive payments to doctors and on subsidies to regions to increase the bed capacity.

It is not the first time in recent years that the signing of roadmaps for integration has been announced. But each time Lukashenka found a reason to refuse to sign them – either he did not agree with the prices for energy resources, then he did not like the political part of the roadmaps. It cannot be ruled out that a reason to refuse will be found this time too.

Most likely, the political roadmap has been set aside for now – they want to wait for political reforms in Belarus and changes in the country’s Constitution, and then return to this issue.

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