Oligarchic capitalism sets Russia and Belarus apart

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has received instructions not to meet with Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko in Minsk. Sergei Lavrov arrived in Minsk to hold a joint session of the two foreign ministries. Now the visit of the Russian Foreign Minister is vigorously discussed by the media which mainly focuses on the reasons why Lavrov and Lukashenko did not meet.

"The meeting was not planned, the head of the Russian Foreign Ministry had clear instructions from the Russian president on this," said a Kremlin source.

In other words, there is still no understanding between Minsk and Moscow. This is particularly striking, since Belarus presidential campaign is already under way. What hinders the progress in relations between the two brotherly countries? An independent Belarusian political analyst Dmitry Rodin answered this and other questions in an interview with

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"I am drawing your attention to the fact that this is clearly not an ordinary incident. Because before, when Russian Foreign Minister visited Minsk, he would always meet with the President of Belarus.

It is significant that just recently Alexander Lukashenko met with the foreign ministers of Germany and Poland - Guido Westerwelle and Radoslaw Sikorski. It is possible that someone in Moscow considered this additional evidence to strengthen the links between the West and Belarus as a slap in the face.

- How important was the meeting with Lavrov for Lukashenko, and why it did not take place?

"Now, a month before the presidential election, Lukashenko had to have the support of the Ministries of Foreign Affairs both in the European Union and Russia. Speaking about the fact that Sergei Lavrov did not meet with Alexander Lukashenko, we should remember the following: during the last such meeting, the Belarusian leader told him everything he thought about Moscow's actions during the aggravation of bilateral relations.

In addition, Lukashenko accused the Russian side of an incident with the recent attack on the Russian Embassy in Minsk. We are talking about someone tossing a Molotov cocktail into the building occupied by the Embassy.

Lavrov's behavior, that has become a kind of demarche, clearly suggests that the conflict has still not been settled and that on the eve of the elections the Kremlin wants to hurt Lukashenko.

- Experts suggest that the main reason for this lack of understanding between Moscow and Minsk is that Lukashenko refuses to recognize the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

"Some people just use it to aggravate the conflict. Indeed, the question of recognition depends mainly on Lukashenko. But what's in it for Belarus? Its leader is well aware that by doing this he would immediately lose the support of the West and would fall under the dependence from Russia. And now, Lukashenko made a major bet on the maneuvering between the EU and Russia. As evidence shows, it turns out he did it very successfully.

One of the main reasons is the fact that the Russian oligarchs want to gain control over the Belarusian refineries. We know that the most that Lukashenko is ready to go for, is to sell 40 percent of the shares in the refineries. However, the Russian oligarchs do not like it. They want to get a controlling stake.

Meanwhile, I am pretty sure that even this dead end situation had a solution. At some point, Lukashenko was ready to cede a controlling stake, albeit for a certain price. First and foremost, he wanted the fees on Russian crude oil to be removed, duties on petroleum products to be reduced, as well as wanted unobstructed Belarusian exports to the Russian market. Yet, Moscow did not yield. A new round of conflict has started. This means that someone is seriously setting up the current Russian authorities and later, when the election campaign starts in Russia, the deterioration of relations with the brotherly people can be blamed on someone.

- It turns out that this conflict is largely personal?

"Yes, but not exclusively. Of course, the conflict where both Russian and Belarusian leadership have competing claims is largely personal. Its acuity in many respects is predicated on this assumption. If there was no conflict at the presidential level, the meeting of Lavrov and Lukashenko would have been held. Its absence suggests that Moscow is trying to make another final warning to Minsk.

Yet, the contradictions between them are much deeper than a simple rejection of each other by the two leaders. This is largely a conflict of two different economies, as well as an ideological conflict. A part of the Russian political elite is highly irritated by the fact that there is another former Soviet republic next door where many things are done much better than everywhere else.

Oligarchic capitalism established in Russia today dictates the behavior of Russian elites seeking to maximize their profits in the shortest term at any cost. In this respect, the Belarusian leadership has demonstrated a long-time willingness to make concessions, closing its eyes to narrow economic goals of the Russian foreign policy in order to preserve at least the prospect of a union state. But at some point it became clear that a certain point of no return has been reached where Lukashenko and Belarus were put under pressure of the Russian authorities. It turned out that, in some respect, the West in the form it was painted by the Belarus ideology all these years was in the East.

Naturally, Belarus and Russia in this respect are different realities, different economic models and different systems. Russian elite is, of course, not fond of this proximity. In particular, it is reflected in the fact that most Russian citizens openly like Lukashenko, believing that the life in his country is arranged better.

Many Russians believe that he restored the Soviet Union at its best, with a system of social guarantees for ordinary people, including guarantees for housing from the state, working industry, agriculture, etc. And all this is achieved in the absence of the natural resources available in Russia. And if so, the Belarusian model that is a brainchild of Lukashenko is becoming increasingly attractive for the Russians.

- How do you see the further development of the situation?

"Time has shown that the bet of the Russian political elite on pressure in the dispute with Lukashenko has failed. Let's look at the refinery. It would seem that the situation was hopeless for Minsk. However, Lukashenko found a solution. Tankers came from Venezuela and Iran, and Ukraine and the Baltic countries are arguing about where they should be unloaded. Further, through the pipeline or rail transport the oil goes to Belarus. China provided considerable assistance as well.

Thus, the pressure from Moscow has played the opposite role. It has strengthened the connection of Minsk on the international arena and led to even greater warming of its relations with the West.

It is safe to say that he is the favorite of the election race, and the attempts to influence him from outside have failed. The West understood this and is now tirelessly courting Minsk. Lukashenko will not be overthrown because there is really no alternative from either side.

The Russian leadership in any case should be aware that it must somehow negotiate with the President of Belarus. The two countries have too much in common. In some respects, Russia is even more tied to Belarus than to Ukraine. And the more Moscow pressures Lukashenko, the more he will be moving closer to the West.

Sergei Balmasov



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