Lukashenko Supports Russian in Georgian War, But Late

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev received Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko in Sochi yesterday. A day earlier, the Kremlin made it clear that it took an extremely negative view of Minsk's "modest" position on the conflict in Georgia and postponed the consideration of Belarus' request for a loan and the lower of the price for Russian gas. Lukashenko took the chance to make up for it, not only throwing his full support behind Russia's actions, but agreeing to form a single air defense system with Russia.

Yesterday's meeting was planned long before military actions began in Georgia, but recent events added to undercurrents in the countries' relations. Russia was very annoyed with the lack of support it felt from Minsk. On the fifth day of the military operation, the Kremlin was unable to contain itself and Russian Ambassador to Belarus Alexander Surikov stated publicly, "We don't understand why Belarusian authorities are keeping such modest silence. Issues like these require clearer expression, especially from allies."

The timing is bad for Belarus. Lukashenko has just instructed his foreign ministry "to take steps to improve relations with the EU and U.S.," which only added to Moscow's displeasure. With Russia increasingly surrounded by unfriendly countries, from Estonia to Georgia, Belarus was the chink in the anti-Russian armor. The sympathy expressed by Lukashenko the following day for the tragic events in South Ossetia was not enough. Moscow wanted very clearly expressed support.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin gave a distinctly chilly welcome to Belarusian Prime Minister Sergey Sidorsky when the latter arrived in Moscow on August 14 to discuss lower natural gas prices for Belarus next year and borrowing $2 billion from Russia. Putin advised Lukashenko to come to an agreement with Medvedev before returning to the subject of money this autumn.

Medvedev raised the subject of Georgian aggression in South Ossetia literally at the threshold when they met and Lukashenko knew what to do. "I want to thank you for the courage you have shown," he told the Russian president. "Everything was done exceptionally - very calmly, wisely and beautifully." To be safe, he added that the West could not have acted the way Russia did, but would have "done everything in such a way as to make the whole world squirm." That was what Moscow was expecting from its partner in the union state, and Lukashenko knew it, adding "Practically all the problems in our relations have been solved. God willing, we will continue on such a path," even before negotiations with the Russian president.

Words alone were not enough for Moscow. After the negotiations, Russian presidential aide Sergey Prikhodko announced that the presidents will hold a session of the high state council of the union state in the autumn to sign an agreement on creating a unified air defense system. The secretariat of the union state made it clear last night that the move is a response to the placement of American missile defense elements in Eastern Europe. Belarusian support will give Medvedev extra assurance when he attends the Collective Security Treaty Organization and Commonwealth of Independent States summits on September 5 and October 10, respectively. Not only will the war with Georgia be a key issue at those meetings, but Moscow



Partners: Social Network