- According to the official sources Lukashenka has spent 10 days in Sochi. What was the Belarusian leader doing there: waiting for a meeting with Putin, vacationing or hiding from the "parasites" protests?
- Sometimes one has to believe the official sources: Lukashenka was in Sochi on a private visit. We know no more about this trip, let’s leave the fortune-telling to the crystal-gazers and astrologers. But in these difficult times our president has spent 10 days on his private affairs, that is, in a meaningless way.
- Is such behavior permissible for the head of state in the midst of an economic crisis?
- Belarus today has found itself in an extremely difficult situation. On the one hand, there is a general economic downturn, which is accompanied by a lack of resources to pay back foreign debts. And this is already more than a private matter of Belarus, which is not able to fulfill its obligations to foreign creditors.
Russia is the largest creditor of Belarus, and it has the right to require fulfilling the debt and interest repayment schedule.
On the other hand, Russia is in a complicated geopolitical position itself: it is losing influence in the region. The only country Russia can pressure is Belarus.
But Russia cannot demand Belarus to pay, because it understands: the only chance for Belarus to do it is to appeal to foreign investors, which means it will escape the influence of Russia.
What does remain? Russia has no resources available to support Lukashenka’s regime as much as it did previously. Then it can only try to force Lukashenka to further integrate with the Russian Federation.
Lukashenko fully understands that "integration with Russia" means loss of sovereignty and the absorption of Belarus. He probably cannot agree on it: it means either power loss or a possible surge of people’s indignation.
In such an ugly situation, the only real way out for Russia is a small victorious war, i.e. forcing Belarus to become a part of the Russian Federation. For Lukashenka a war threat becomes a way to escape: it will force people to unite around the Belarusian president providing additional legitimacy. At the same time an openly declared war against Belarus seems impossible. And it is not even the reaction of the international community (Europe, NATO, the neighboring countries) that poses a problem but the fact that the Russian society would not understand such aggressive actions of the Kremlin against Belarus. That is, the power of Putin himself will be put at risk.
Today we can witness not war preparations but rather whipping up the tension. It would benefit Lukashenka like no other (not the war itself but the threat of a war), that’s why he teases the Kremlin to provoke aggression. Russia struggles to refrain from direct actions, but it enjoys the idea of absorbing Belarus by peaceful or rather quasi peaceful, diplomatic, political means.
- Does the threat of war give Lukashenka a chance to evade responsibility for the failures in domestic policy?
- There’s a chance to evade responsibility for economic failures and to write off everything as machinations of Russia.
- But is it possible for Lukashenka to unite the Belarusians around himself in conditions of a military threat? We see that the voice of people protesting against the Lukashenka’s regime is getting stronger.
- Protest moods are growing in Belarus.
It is is impossible to redeem dissatisfaction with conventional means (increasing wages, tax cuts) today due to the economic crisis. So, some political concessions are necessary.
- What kind of political concessions do you mean?
- The government may initiate at least some reforms. For the first time in many years the Belarusian regime needs the opposition: there are movements that might be willing to cooperate with the authorities. I’m talking about the "Tell the Truth" campaign, which has already been on the path of the so-called constructive opposition for several years.
- So should we expect Lukashenka to aggravate tension on the Russian front and a thaw in internal relations in the near future?
- Exactly. Unless, of course, there is something important happening that we do not know about. For example, Putin and Lukashenka discussing a possibility of surrendering the Belarusian sovereignty in return for security guarantees and a promise for Lukashenka to keep his power.