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SEPTEMBER 2020

Belarusian Gambit: Lukashenko’s Contradictions With Russia Are Growing

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Belarusian Gambit: Lukashenko's Contradictions With Russia Are Growing

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Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko continues employing his ‘restraint’ policy Russia.

In an interview with the Echo of Moscow Radio, Lukashenko said that he is not happy with the current state of oil and gas negotiations with Russia. According to him, the gas price proposed by the Russian government is too high. So, Belarus will seek ‘alternatives’.

“How am I capricious? Because I am negotiating instead of bargaining right now? I didn’t want these matters elevated to the level of the presidents [the matter of tighter integration, which was discussed during several meetings of Aleksandr Lukashenko and Vladimir Putin]. I’ve often criticized the Russian government for forcing the presidents to deal with these matters. Now on New Year’s eve we are starting to quarrel instead of having a meeting with my close friend Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, drinking a shot of vodka or moonshine (I will bring some from Belovezhskaya Pushcha), and shaking hands. Story of my life today! How can one keep economy straight if we are told that the price for natural gas has to be $152?”

Lukashenko said that if Belarus accepts the natural gas price Russia pushes for, it will have to seek alternative supplies.

“I will do exactly the same: I will seek an alternative (I will have to do it anyway). I am not hiding it from Russia’s leadership,” the president said.

Reverse gas supplies from Poland were named as one of the options. Earlier, Ukraine used same option buying de-facto Russian gas from Poland under increased prices in order to avoid making buisiness with the Kremlin.

It should be noted  that Belarus has always received energy resources from Russia under very low prices and discounts. The current Belarus government describes any slightest increase in energy prices as a threat to its ‘national intersts’ and a ‘unfriendly move’. Desptie this, Minsk is not very interesting in showing any kind of similar ‘friendly appraoch’ in diplomatic sphere. During the past years, Belarus has declined  to support Russia in some sensetive questions, like the recognition of Crimea as a part of Russia, and tried to keep a ‘neutral’ position in the conflict in Ukraine. Some influential EU politicians even described Belarus as a prospective candidate for the EU membership.

In the same interview, Lukashenko recalled his stance towards an implementation of the long agreed in the framework of the Union State agreement with Russia.

The agreement was reached in 1996 under the name of  “The Commonwealth of Belarus and Russia”. Later the name was changed into the Union State. It provides a legal basis for the creation of a supranational union consisting of the Russian Federation and the Republic of Belarus. However, the Belarusian leadership intentionally delays the implementation of the agreement because it fears to loss a part of its political infuence as well as an oppotunity to blackmail Russia with ‘prospects’ of cooperation with the EU, the US and NATO.

Commenting on the deeper integration, Lukashenko said that the West and NATO would see a forceful attempt to join the two countries as a threat and stand up to Russia.

If Russia tries to violate our sovereignty as some people say, you know how the global community will respond; they will be drawn into a war,” Lukashenko said. “The West and NATO won’t tolerate that because they would see it as a threat to themselves. In that sense, they would be right.”

The December 24 interview was not the first or rare case when the Belarusian President publicly criticized Russia and threatened it with plans to find ‘better allies’.

In November 2019, Lukashenko stated that his country wants to get Russian Su-30SM fighter jets for free despite that Belarus reportedly buys warplanes on credit. Lukashenko claimed that his country performs part of the duty to defend Russia from the west and criticized Moscow for its unwillingness to co-finance the delivery of Sukhoi Su-30SM fighter aircraft to Belarus.

In Summer 2017, Belarus’ Defense Ministry said that Minsk would buy 12 Su-30SM fighter aircraft from Russia to update its Air Force’s fleet. The first two aircraft arrived in Belarus on November 13, 2019.

At the moment Russia is supplying military equipment to its partners at domestic rather than export prices. Nonetheless, the already significant cost reduction appeared to be for the leader of Belarus. According to Vedomosti newspaper’s sources, Lukashenko just wanted to get advanced jets for free.

Furthermore, if Russia makes an exception for Belarus, it will offend other Collective Security Treaty Organization partners. Such a move will set a precedent for price reviews for other countries, Vedomosti notes.

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