Uladzimir Matskevich: Russia exerts complex pressure on Belarus in every direction

Aliaksei Yurych, EuroBelarus Information Service

With the deterioration of the situation in the Russian economy the pressure on Belarus will only intensify.

Last week, the topic of Belarusan-Russian cooperation has become urgent again. First the Russian armed forces relocated a motorized infantry brigade to the Belarusan border. Then Vladimir Putin flew to Minsk to take part in some weird Belarus-Russia Forum of Regions. What is happening today in the Belarusan-Russian relations in general and how should we evaluate the actions of the authorities of the two countries?

The main trends in Belarusan-Russian relations analyzed the philosopher and methodologist Uladzimir Matskevich in an interview with the EuroBelarus Information Service.

— Forum of Regions, which was held in Minsk on 7-8 June with the participation of Vladimir Putin, showed increased contradictions between Minsk and Moscow. Alexander Lukashenko was speaking about the abolition of restrictions on trade, Andrei Kobyakov — about the reduction of gas prices, Mikhail Myasnikovich — about de-dollarization of bilateral relations. What is the cause of the conflict between the allies?

— Forum of Regions passed without visible consequences and serious statements.

I doubt that the statements of Belarusan officials can be interpreted as claims; they are rather complaints that cannot be regarded as conflicting. In recent years the Belarusan-Russian relations have accumulated a lot of problems and contradictions keep growing. Problems should be solved, but the Belarusan side doesn’t seem to treat them seriously.

Myasnikovich’s financial and economic statements haven’t changed at all over the last 25 years. We have repeatedly discussed exemptions and restrictions: both during the formation of the Customs Union and the Eurasian Economic Union — all paper unions don’t work. Hopes that they will solve the economic problems of the “Union State” are groundless.

— On the eve of the Forum Russia relocated the 28th motorized infantry brigade to the Belarusan border. Why has Russia needed troops on the Belarusan border?

— I am inclined to trust the statements of the first parties of Russia: the redeployment of Russian troops to the Belarusan border is the pressure on Ukraine and has no relation to Belarus. However, if Belarus was independent in military and political terms, it would have protested against the actions of the Russian Federation. Ukraine now is Belarus’ ally and political relations with Kiev are warmer than those with Moscow. But, instead of a protest, we hear the repetition of the long-term rhetoric from Lukashenko that “Belarus will be the first to meet NATO troops.” This is a bluff; but Lukashenko cannot say otherwise — a perennial habit of using clichés makes him a hostage of his own ideological constructs.

— Lukashenko said that the Russian troops at the Belarusan border is an adequate response to the expansion of NATO to the East, whereas the Ambassador Alexander Surikov, on the other hand, announced that it is a response to the increase of military threats on the part of Ukraine. What do these contradictions indicate?

— Both statements do not really contradict each other. The statements of Belarusan and Russian officials come from the confusion that Russia has created in the region and in the international arena.

— The dynamics of Russian-Belarusan relations is alarming: a gas war, which might escalate into a hot phase; relocation of Russian troops to the Belarusan border; a suggestion to introduce a “Union State” visa, which could seriously undermine the normalization of relations with the European Union. Where are we going?

— Russia exerts complex pressure on Belarus in every direction, including health services. The Ministry of Health of Belarus is being forced to buy Russian medicines. Belarus becomes the hostage of the Russian policy in basically all spheres, and with the deterioration of the situation in the Russian economy the pressure on Belarus will only intensify.

As the global situation with hydrocarbons deteriorates, Russia twists Belarus’ arms to compensate for the losses in international trade at the expense of economic relations with Belarus. Minsk has to balance between the situation on the world market and peculiar complicated relations with the Russian producers of basic goods that Belarus imports from Russia. Hence we should expect complications in the areas such as trade in hydrocarbons and agricultural products. Belarus wants to lower the price of hydrocarbons, while Russia will be trying to lower prices for Belarusan goods. Belarus loses in both cases: from reduced prices for hydrocarbons, from lower prices for domestic production, and lower prices for energy that lead to stagnation of the Belarusan industry.

— Under the given circumstances is Minsk ready to distance itself from Russia or the Belarusan authorities have no choice but to go along with the Kremlin's policy, trying not to irritate Moscow?

— Lukashenko’s economic advisor Kiryl Rudy said that in 2016 no reforms would take place in Belarus. Let’s not have illusions: if people close to Lukashenko say that there will be no reforms, we shouldn’t wait for them.

Today Belarus is trying to use at least formal factors of sovereignty to withstand the Russian pressure. But Russia takes reciprocal steps. Corruption component of collaboration between the various ministries and agencies of Belarus and Russia has increased: Minsk officials receive bribes from Russian exporters, forcing the Belarusan government to conclude trade deals with Russia that are not beneficial for Belarus from a national perspective, but beneficial to some officials. Now, when the Belarusan regime is trying to withstand Russian expansion, Russian oligarchs are taking countermeasures. Belarus is trying to defend national interests at the government level, but it doesn’t work, as Russia takes unbalanced steps in response to.

As long as the ideological chatter will be based on the “strengthening of Belarusan-Russian friendship” and all sorts of “allied” slogans, the Belarusan economy, management, and business community won’t be able to defend national interests in specific commercial deals.