Translated and subtitled by Scott Humor
Vladimir Putin’s trip to Minsk and closed-door talks, which took unusually long time, attracted attention of many political experts.
The president of Russia flew to Belarus on June 19th. On June 22nd, after only a couple of days, Alexander Lukashenko publicly admitted that the republic could become a part of “some state.”
So, should we say welcome to the Belarusian Federal district?
Look at Lukashenko’s tense face.
Here he is, speaking to farmers in Shklovsky district of Mogilev region, saying the words that were quickly spread by social media. He says: “We are at the frontline. We won’t survive these years, if we fail. It will become unavoidable for us to become a part of some country. Either that, or we will be used as a doormat. Or, God forbid, they could start a war, like in Ukraine.”
What cannot be denied to Belarusian president is his acute sense of self-preservation. It helped Lukashenko to survive all attempts to unseat him from his presidential throne. When “Bat’ka” (Dad) was singing about “multi-vector politic,” he did this because these songs were about something for him, personally, none threatening.
In his recent talks with European Commissioner Johannes Hahn Lukashenko said: “Building our relations with the European Union, that is our closest neighbor – and with these neighbors, because neighbors are from God, we need to be friends… We are not in a hurry. We never promised you what we couldn’t do… You looked at us, we checked the European Union out. Thanks to ongoing transformations in the EU and in Belarus, we have decided that it is not good for us to look at each other “over the fence,” to look askew…»
This was said about the European Union that imposed sanctions against Lukashenko and branded him “the last dictator of Europe.” This is Lukashenko who answered to Europeans’ insults with tirades on about non-traditional sexual orientation of European diplomats. And so on, and so on.
And that’s was the EU Lukashenko was “checking out?”
He was “checking out” the EU, while using cheap Russian gas, a huge Russian market and other such cakes. And, while having access to all of this, he was singing about multi-vector politic. (Coming from him understood as being with the EU, while using Russia. S.H.)
And then, suddenly, began to sing a different tune.
What has changed? It seems that Moscow finally grabbed our multi-vector Lukashenko by the short hairs. I, like you, have no idea how it was done, but Putin knows how.
Just today came an announcement of Erdogan’s victory in the presidential elections in Turkey. Would he be waving his hand from the podium right now, if it wasn’t for the data of the Russian intelligence and warning about the anti-government coup?
No, he wouldn’t be waving.
Turkey is bigger than Belarus and is further from us. But, we are connected, and there are people who work there to make sure that Russian President is informed. What is it here to say about Belarus?
Maybe in Minsk Putin showed Lukashenka some data that he is slated to repeat the fate of another admirer of “multi-vector,” who now lives in Rostov. Maybe it’s something else. But the fact remains, Lukashenko publicly acknowledged that Belarus might become a part of “some country.”
I think we all know what country.
The war of the West against Russia is not coming to the end any time soon. NATO troops rumble in Lithuania, very close to the border with Belarus. It would be very foolish to think that Moscow will allow the enemy to stage the same trick in Minsk as it was done in 2014 in Kiev. A distance from Minsk to Moscow is much shorter, than from Kiev.
The reasons why until now Lukashenko has resisted real, not declarative, integration within the Union State are obvious. He used to rule autocratically and sharing power for him is an extreme measure. He even acts like a tsar. It’s him, not Putin, who has this label. Have you ever seen Putin standing next to his daughters on the podium during the Victory Day parade? No one seen him doing this. However, sons of Lukashenko stand next to him. The boys are standing there instead of veterans, take a notice. They are standing in front of the ministers. What would happen to them, if “God forbid, they will unleash a war, as in Ukraine”?
I doubt that Lukashenko’s children are very much loved, both by the Belarusian elite and by the people. I believe the statements made in Mogilev region testifies that Lukashenko accepted that the Belarusian Federal district might appear. Surely, he will be given personal guarantees for this. Him and his sons. It is likely that he will lead this district of the Russian Federation, as a governor. Maybe even until the end of his life.
What’s happening now behind closed doors, in a narrow circle, is bargaining. And Lukashenko’s statement is an echo of this ongoing bargaining. He is a temperamental person. It is difficult for him to keep such drama inside. After all, the Belarusian state is his life’s work. Of course, it’s hard to place it under someone else control.
But let’s be honest, in this current form, it can no longer exist. According to the data from the Belarusian media on the country’s foreign debt: the gross external debt of Belarus in all sectors of the economy for 2017 has increased by $2 billion (by 6,4%), and as of January 1 amounted to $39, 932,7 billion dollars. This data is in published statistic report of the National Bank. Yes, Belarus debt is growing. Not as fast as in “developed countries,” but growing, nevertheless. Last year, Belarus allocated $5,992.3 billion to service its total external debt (excluding trade loans and short-term bank liabilities). This accounted for 16.4% of exports of goods and services, or 11% of GDP. Payments to repay the principal amounted to $4, 602.8 billion, interest payments and other payments to $1, 389.5 billion. According to the National Bank, per capita foreign debt in Belarus also continues to grow. As of January, 1th 2018, gross external debt per capita was $4,207. As of January 1st, of last year debt was $3,947.
Alexander Lukashenko has recently demanded from the government to reduce the foreign debt. “Today we need to get rid of as much foreign debts as possible. They limit our opportunities, especially social ones. To give away about 10% of GDP only for the service of public debt is an unacceptable luxury, ” the head of Belarusian state said on March 2nd during his meeting with the government members and the National Bank.
He is making demands to himself.
This is a person without whom, as a joke goes, even a potato can’t be touched, a person who is in charge for everything, now this person demands reduction of foreign debt. Maybe, this external debt is just evidence of a failure of his “multi-vector” approach? Perhaps, it’s a proof that ordinary Belarusians can’t afford to sustain a small army of government officials and bureaucrats? Why would they pay for the office of the president, the foreign ministry, all their foreign voyages, palaces, and so on? The utility fees have been raised since January 1st, now Belarusian citizens pay more.
In general, there is something to think about for Lukashenko, there is something to think about.
And not only for him, by the way.
Vladimir Makei, the Foreign Minister of Belarus, also a singer of “multi-vector” policies, recently mentioned Minsk readiness to host a Russian military base, if Poland gets to host an American base. “Nothing is impossible… Today, we are not going to place new foreign military bases on the territory of Belarus, because we want stability in our region and do not want to become a troublemaker… But looking ahead, we must consider the steps that our neighbors will take.”
You can see how difficult international situation has a beneficial effect on the Belarusian leaders. They begin to shrink in some places, and under the influence of these convulsive contractions they become less selfish and more agreeable.
Russia is happy to get back 10 million Russian in language, culture and spirit people. And for these people, life will be easier, because gross foreign debt of $4,207 per capita will be lifted of their collective necks including infants and elderly.
We will wait for the results of this deal. Maybe Lukashenko senior, doesn’t want to lead, any more. Maybe, he is tired and wants to relax somewhere on lake Baikal, fishing, and not worrying about whether Belarusians have sorted all their potatoes? Maybe, he wants one of his sons to become a governor, to gain experience for his future career in the federal government?
Whatever it is, it is preferable to have a stable and active life of a head of the Belarusian Federal district than to rest in a coffin after a palace coup d’état, or a “color putsch,” staring at the ceiling with dead eyes of a president of a multi-vector republic, who wasn’t able to recognize that the world has changed, and that the scheme “getting from them while taking from us” no longer works.