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24 September 2017
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AnalyticsRubicon-2015: Field notes

It’s not the first time the Belarusian experts and journalists gather in Tallinn to discuss their country’s problems at a Rubicon forum. At this time, the traditional event’s agenda also included the Ukrainian issue and forecasts for Russia’s further development.

Alexander Lukashenka doesn’t seem to be Europe's last dictator anymore, being overshadowed by Putin

I believe it would be useful for many Ukrainian politicians to attend such an event, watch and listen how concerned citizens discuss the destiny of their country in a neighboring state. Activists from Belarus have been coming to the Baltics and Poland for several years, also taking a chance to enjoy music forbidden in Belarus and shop extensively. At the same time, Lukashenka sees high enough support. There may not be 80-something percent, but there’s a solid 60% of his faithful supporters. Demand for paternalism proved to be strong in Belarus. It was embodied in the face of Belarusian president being re-elected yet again, remaining the only president ever over the years of the country’s independence. Lukashenka can easily compete with some Central Asian “fathers of nation” in terms of duration of tenure.

The Euro-Maidan, the subsequent annexation of Crimea and the conflict in Donbas played into the hands of Lukashenka

The conference was timed with the European Union’s decision to suspend for four months the sanctions against Belarus and personal restrictions against Lukashenka. It was noted that Minsk had been working extensively toward the lifting of sanctions, having taken advantage not only of the deterioration of relations between Russia and Ukraine, but also of its own diplomatic efforts. Alexander Lukashenka doesn’t seem to be Europe's last dictator anymore, being overshadowed by Putin. Moreover, he has been making efforts to to gradually return to European politics. Yury Drakakhrust, journalist from RFE/RL, believes that Lukashenka will visit Vatican to have a meeting with Pope Francis. This option seems logical in light of the Belarusian president’s search for of new possibilities to balance between the centers of power. It should be understood that Lukashenka’s role as a mediator in resolving the Donbas conflict is actually minimal, while his country profited both from the introduction of Western sanctions against Russia, and from cessation of direct flights between Ukraine and Russia.

I must say that the internal situation has also been pushing Lukashenka toward these steps. The recent devaluation of the Belarusian ruble, which the authorities want to camouflage with the announced denomination of the national currency, is a serious blow to the citizens of Belarus. Therefore, the Euro-Maidan, the subsequent annexation of Crimea and the conflict in Donbas played into the hands of Lukashenka, allowing him to run for presidential re-election with no economic promises, but with the sole guarantees of stability, much welcomed by his electorate. Belarusian president has managed to keep his balance, being at the same time a Russia’s ally and continuing to develop mutually beneficial relations with Ukraine. In particular, having provided supplies of fuel required by Ukraine’s ATO forces, he seeks new opportunities to enhance military-technical cooperation.

At the same time we must not forget that Belarus has been posing for a long period as as a "Slavic outpost against the aggressive West," and Lukashenka occasionally allows himself public attacks on the Ukrainian authorities. Perhaps this is the chosen way of maintaining this sort of balance. We can only regret that Ukraine and Belarus failed to present a united front against the Kremlin's transit standoff. Today the brand name of Beltransgaz-Gazprom speaks for itself. On the other hand, Belarusians and Ukrainians have never fought each other in the past, and this fact can become a cornerstone in the foundation of bilateral relations. The policy of Minsk won’t be able to protect Belarus from the threat of takeover by the Kremlin, which, of course, would have to sack Alexander Lukashenka, in order to implement such a scenario. According to reports on training of the Russian World crusaders in different parts of Belarus and weird pro-Russian agenda in Vitebsk region, such a scenario is not at all improbable.

Russian journalist and music critic Artemy Troitsky freshened up the meeting, painting the Russian reality today in gray and black. However, Vladislav Inozemtsev, Russian economist, disagreed, stressing that the Kremlin may suffer financially in case the oil price drops to $30 a barrel, which is hardly likely at the moment.

On the one hand, Belarus remains a "European Cinderella" without prospects for democratic development, being dependent on Russian financial assistance. On the other hand, Kyiv’s normal relations with Minsk will minimize threats of being smothered by Moscow. I believe everyone’s aware of the Kremlin’s expansionist plans, while the fragile lull in Donbas is unlikely to mean that the conflict has been resolved. Molding effective relations with Belarus is an important element of the Central European identity, which is becoming increasingly important for Ukraine.

Yevgeny Magda

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