Russian Website Views Possibility of Belarus-EU Rapprochement

Text of report by Russian news website, often critical of the government, on 4 July

[Article by Vadim Dubnov: "Secret Credit For Lukashenka" (Internet Version)]

Secret credit for Lukashenka

The West has tired of the senseless struggle for Belarusian democracy, and is ready to come to agreement with the Belarusian president [Alyaksandr Lukashenka]. On the background of unstable relations with Moscow and the need for money, the latter needs legitimatization of his regime. And Europe must get used to the idea that it can invest into Belarusian virgin soil.

The Belarusian opposition has long suspected Europe of a readiness to come to agreement with Lukashenka. Now, this hypothetical readiness has taken on the sound of a clear political thesis, formulated by people from the Polish MVD [Ministry of Internal Affairs] and MFA [Ministry of Foreign Affairs]. The conclusion: Economic pressure on Belarus is not only useless, but also not safe, because it pushes Lukashenka closer to Moscow. And the advance: The signal of Minsk's readiness for a warming of relations with the West must be the parliamentary elections, which are scheduled for the end of September.

Minsk is demonstrating a readiness for this thaw. The world will most certainly appraise how these elections take place. In some places, even with notes of unwitting self-revelation: Yes, there was sin before, but now we are starting everything from a clean slate. In general, whoever is not blind will see: The concept is changing. And this is partly in fact the case.

The years spent in union friendship with the second president of Russia had to convince Lukashenka of the fact that even respites in the opposition with the Kremlin do not make this opposition any less systematic.

If it is not gas, then it is oil. If it is not oil, then it is powdered mild. No West, with its lists of those who have been barred and its threat of sanctions, presents such a danger for Lukashenka, as does his faithful ally. And the matter lies not even in the fact that, in the negotiations with Gazprom, economic catastrophe is expected any day now, with a subsequent fall into the political depths of hell. With a sense of this deep expectation, the world has been watching Belarus for 14 years now. Meanwhile, any increase in gas prices is strangely accompanied by a long-term loan to neutralize this increase. The schemes of refining Russian oil at Belarusian plants, thanks to which petroleum products became the main article of Belarusian export and the main source of budget and official solvency a few years ago, have also not been destroyed. Of course, their profitability has declined somewhat, but not fatally. The trade balance has changed its plus sign for a minus sign, but, strangely enough, the budget is still showing a surplus. Of course, it is necessary to repeal transit benefits for pensioners, but this is certainly not the economic coma that they continue to expect. This is an unambiguous signal of the fact that the resource of Russian-Belarusian symbiosis is gradually drying up, and that its risks are beginning to clearly outweigh its advantages. And that it is necessary to gradually seek an alternative.

But the West has already tired of the senseless struggle for Belarusian democracy. And this is part of the more general tiredness of the struggle for democracy east of Warsaw in general. It is necessary to somehow live next to Belarus, while at the same time not straining or exerting too much effort. Furthermore, we should not forget that the European Union has grown in terms of its membership with countries that, prior to aligning with Europe, had entirely tolerable bilateral business with Lukashenka. And neither the Lithuanians, nor the Latvians, nor the Poles want to lose this. For the rest, if we do not count Germany and Austria, the Belarusian topic is not all that interesting, especially on the background of the Irish or Turkish one. We must believe that, in Europe, there are no more illusions on the topic of the upcoming Belarusian elections, than there were after the many years of efforts to re-educate Lukashenka. And it is still unknown whether it is the West that is dictating the conditions of the truce to Lukashenka, or whether it is he, Lukashenka, that is giving the West a list of what he is ready to do.

Hold honest elections? By all means. The complement of the district commissions will include two or three tested people, who have not been noted for cooperation with the authorities. Allow the opposition into parliament? Well, two or three formal oppositionists, who pose no great danger, will get mandates. You can be sure of that. But to observe how the real oppositionist wolves are already today announcing their intentions to run for office is more than the Belarusian president can bear. Or did someone in Warsaw or Brussels seriously believe that, within the scope of the new agreements, Lukashenka would absolve such people of interest by the tax officials or the special services?

Lukashenka needs legitimatization of the regime that he has created. He has been living without it for 12 years now, since Fall of '96, and the recognition of its need is already in itself a change of concept. Optimists are expecting advances or at least quasi-reforms: For present-day Belarus, even their appearance is practically a revolution. But even these expectations are a symptom of continuing romanticism.

The word "compromise" does not exist in the political lexicon of the Belarusian president. Even that, which he is today declaring is for him an example of irrepressible accommodation.

On the other hand, judging by the way in which the Polish establishment, which has allowed Lukashenka to make such advances, has begun justifying itself for this, European public opinion is clearly not keeping up with the zig-zags of real politics. And it turns out that there is nowhere to hurry - neither for Lukashenka, nor for Europe. Lukashenka needs legitimatization for one very simple reason: Europe must get used to the idea that it can give loans to Minsk, no matter what its nature, and that it can invest into the Belarusian virgin soil. And for him, [Lukashenka], even a partial and unspoken admission is fully acceptable. After all, those same Austrians are working with him even now. The question lies only in a gradual expansion of this circle, and a breaking of tradition.

And Europe is agreeable to a slow and gradual approach. After all, Lukashenka does not have anything that he could sell to the West at a profit: He does not have either a bomb, or oil, or strategic transit routes. As many years of practical experience have shown, Belarusian goods under the title of, "Together with Europe against Moscow," also do not enjoy any great popularity and, mainly, trust. Lukashenka can sell only one thing, and it seems that, without even realizing this, he is busily engaged in pre-sale preparations. After all, contrary to his own inclinations, "Batska" [Lukashenka's nickname, meaning "Father" - translator's note] has already prepared Belarus for his departure. Under the pressure of his semi-parody of semi-dictatorship, a normal understanding of Europeanism has grown up in Belarus.

There are no economic sanctities here, over which his heirs from the nomenklatura will begin to squabble with each other after their patron's departure. And Batska's oversight was so close, that they really did not have a chance to become debauched. And if this grandiose departure indeed happens in Belarus, those same Ukrainians may perhaps marvel at how easily the Belarusians will travel their orange path as compared to them.

Understandably, there is only one question: When? As long as there is no answer to it, we have only to wait. And at least not ruin that, which we may someday acquire at a cheap price. This is perhaps that very same main line of credit, which Europe is almost ready to open for Lukashenka - and who else?

Originally published by website, Moscow, in Russian 4 Jul 08.