Uladzimir Matskevich: Moscow is interested and concerned by Belarus as a geostrategic foothold

Aliaksei Yurych, EuroBelarus Information Service

The problems between Belarus and Russia are not getting solved, and the tension is growing and becoming aggravated.

On November 17 in Minsk Alexander Lukashenko held a press conference for Russian journalists and bloggers. He was replying to their questions for more than five hours.

Did Russian journalists hear anything new? What is the meaning behind such events? Should we see any significance in Lukashenko’s “confessions”?

Uladzimir Matskevich, philosopher and methodologist, replied to the questions of EuroBelarus Information Service.

— I have never seen a single press conference held by Lukashenko for the Russian journalists. I always get to know about such events post factum.

After reading reports on this press conference I concluded that there was no significant information mentioned, as if there are neither any problems in Belarus itself, nor in the Minsk-Russia relations nor in the world overall. In general, all the meetings with Russian journalists are simply showing off, Lukashenko being narcissistic in front of the audience ready to applaud. The only consequence of such events is the pro-Lukashenko electorate, Lukashenko public cooing over what a nice, talkative, folksy president we have.

— Russian journalists were beckoned to Minsk at the times of strained relations with Moscow. This time the press conference was also held right before the meeting with Vladimir Putin. Maybe Lukashenko wanted to convey his position to the Kremlin?

— Putin is unlikely to pay attention to this kind of show. He has enough information on what Lukashenko is doing or is going to do; reliable information comes from the Russian agents in Lukashenko’s surroundings and analytical agencies that dismantle the statements and actions taken by the President of Belarus.

But I would like to draw attention to the fact that Lukashenko have not held such meetings for a long time and absolutely could not have them at the beginning of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict and during the escalation of the conflict when he had absolutely nothing to say to the Russian regional journalists and the Russian public. Now Lukashenko repeated all the theses voiced before: his love for Russia, the family-like relationship of the Belarusans and Russians — all the prejudices and myths the Belarusan official ideology is based on.

— Is it possible to formulate the preliminary agenda of the talks between Putin and Lukashenko?

— It will be a meeting of two international pariahs, two outsiders, two European losers. Of course, they will talk about how to overcome the difficulties of the economic sanctions imposed on both Russia and Belarus.

The Belarusan regime subsidized by the Russian regime will ask for some help: granting another loan, removing the restrictions on trading Belarusan goods, which could be included in the Russian import program.

And same as always there is a question of the price for hydrocarbons the Belarusan exports and economy depend on, the issue of lifting the tariff and customs restrictions on the supply of Belarusan goods to the Russian market will be discussed. Russia is completely not interested in the Belarusan market as the share in exports is highly insignificant. But Moscow is still worried, interested and concerned by Belarus as a geostrategic foothold. Russia is ready to make some economic concessions, ready to pay for the loyalty of the Belarusan regime for the sake of the Russian military presence and using the territory of Belarus for the needs of foreign and military policy.

— What will Moscow demand in exchange for political loyalty this time?

— Belarus is already making some steps in the direction of Russia in advance: for example, the Belarusan delegation at the UN tried to block the resolution condemning the occupation of Crimea and to take off the entire range of issues put to a vote.

— Did Lukashenko accidentally let the phrase that he is ready to hold elections in Donbass slip?

— No, of course it was not an accident. The Belarusan regime has been trying to stake out a place in mediating the Russia-Ukraine relations. And it is trying to play both sides. On the one hand, it is very interested in trade with Ukraine and through Ukraine with the European Union; on the other hand, it must demonstrate loyalty to Russia. Belarus can stand up against the Ukrainian UN resolution on Crimea, but it is not in any hurry to recognize the Russian occupation of the Crimea, at least at the official level.

Belarusan regime also cannot recognize the military presence of Russian troops and the open war of Russia against Ukraine in Donbass. Since Donbass is not Ukraine anymore but is not Russia (from the point of view of the uncertain position of Lukashenko) why such a neutral, peace-loving country like Belarus cannot get involved in Donbass matters?

— Will Putin and Lukashenko be able to lower the level of tension between the two countries?

— I generally avoid any forecasts. But the increase in tension and the emergence of a growing number of conflict points are trends in recent years. Therefore, even if there is a certain thaw in the Belarus-Russia relations, it will be not even of a temporary nature but a fake show-off thing. Problems are not getting solved, and the tension is growing and becoming aggravated.