Russia-Belarus: fresh format of relations

Kharlamov Ilya

With the clock ticking for the presidential elections in Belarus, the country's opposition has called for the amelioration of ties with Russia, whose experts warn, though, that the next few months may well see a chill in ties between Moscow and Minsk. They refer to a potential victory of Alexander Lukashenko in the upcoming presidential elections in Belarus, which they say will automatically mean a further deterioration in bilateral relations.

Belarus' moderate opposition candidates have repeatedly called for a new format of relations between Moscow and Minsk, which could be based on a full-fledged partnership free from unnecessary ideological cliches. Hard-line candidates have, in turn, regularly blamed the Kremlin for allegedly making a plot against Belarus.

Experts, though, remain skeptical about their succeeding in the impending elections, not ruling out that February 2011 may witness the incumbent Belarusian President's resignation. Small wonder, therefore, Moscow is mulling a variety of scenarios when it comes to its future ties with Belarus. Many point to a recent proposal by Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich, who urged a full-blown integration between Moscow and Kiev within the EU. In Minsk, opposition candidate Andrei Sannikov subscribes to Yanukovich's standpoint, touting a potential Russian-Belarusian partnership under the EU's auspices.

With Russia and Belarus set to be strategic partners for years to come, I do not exclude Minsk's push for entering the EU, Sannikov says.

He is echoed by Pyotr Nikitenko, a Minsk-based political analyst, who at the same time stresses the importance of treading carefully on the topic.

Knocking on the EU's doors is OK , Nikitenko says , but the country's foreign policy focus should be placed on improving ties with our immediate neighbor Russia, which is also one of the world's major players.

The discussion on the matter comes amid a probe into the death of leading Belarusian journalist and opposition activist Oleg Bebenin, who was found hanged in his country house outside Minsk last Friday after the Charter97 news portal he ran came under sustained pressure from the authorities. Belarusian police were quick to describe Bebenin's death as suicide, which his relatives and friends say holds no water. For their part, Bebenin's colleagues praised Russian journalists' drive to cover events in an unbiased way, separately thanking VOR correspondents for cooperation. Natalya Radina, a Minsk-based opposition journalist, urged further development of fraternal ties between Russia and Belarus.

What we are now talking about is a freeze in ties between Moscow and the Lukashenko regime, not the whole of Belarus, Radina says. Neighboring nations, Russia and Belarus should continue to bolster ties in the future, she adds, lauding Moscow's move to start speaking the truth about latest developments in Minsk.

Radina's words are another indication of the fact that the Belarus opposition finally came to realize the significance of cementing bilateral relations with Russia, which is already seen by many as Belarus' staunch ally.


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