Cooperation is always a good thing, regardless of it being between two people or two countries. It’s particularly commendable when two countries cooperate to help another country. The most crucial aspect of cooperation is that it must be truthful and honest between all of the engaged parties, because otherwise it’s not cooperation but something entirely different.
Lukashenko announced that he’s being aided by China and Russia saying: “In times of unprecedented external pressure, Belarus has received support from our long-established allies. The most helpful in these hard times were Russia, China and other countries.”1 He didn’t say anything else about these “other countries”, but my attention was caught by the fact that he mentioned Russia and China together.
It’s no secret that officially Russia and China are considered allies, but in reality China is allied only with itself, and the same can be said of Russia. Both countries share the same goal – to become the dominating nation in all spheres imaginable.
And Lukashenko has numerous times shown that he is willing to do anything to receive financial support. Of course, he needs financial support because he has brought Belarus on the brink of collapse.
It’s clear why Russia supports Lukashenko – Belarus is essentially Russia’s only remaining ally. Some might ask – but what about Russia’s extensive cooperation with China? You’re right, but there is a slight difference – both Russia and China wish to dominate the world, but Belarus doesn’t have such ambitions.
This means that cooperation between Russia and China is the same as the cooperation between the USSR and Nazi Germany. In other words, two cannibals will cooperate while they’re both able to satisfy their appetites, but once they consume everything around them it’s only a matter of time until they turn on each other.
Let’s return to Belarus and Russia. Russia has paid greatly for its friendship with Lukashenko. In March 2020, Belarus’ debt to Russia was nearly eight billion dollars, while its debt to China was 3.3 billion dollars. Most of the money Belarus has received from Russia was in the energy sphere.2
Lukashenko embraced Russia’s aid with open arms, but there have been occasions when he didn’t give Putin what he wanted in return. For instance, the issue of establishing of Russian military bases in Belarus. And we mustn’t forget the scandals of previous years when Belarus simply deceived Russia, i.e. when Belarus procured different energy resources for lower prices and then sold them further for a higher price. Numerous experts believe that for many years Russia has traded subsidies for Belarus’ political compliance, but it didn’t expect such a move.
Now, Russia’s has reached the point of no return, because if it refuses to support Belarus, it would send a clear signal to the rest of the countries that depend on Russia’s support that they will too be left alone with their problems. It is also important to note that Putin benefits from Lukashenko. He isn’t trustworthy, but at least he maintains a pro-Kremlin course and has gone so far that no European country will want to cooperate with him.
If someone else takes Lukashenko’s place, anything can happen. Russia could not only lose its influence in Belarus, but also something far more devastating could happen – Belarus could turn to the West, following the example of Ukraine and Georgia. Such a turn of events would put an end to Putin’s dreams.
Therefore, it’s clear that Putin’s Russia will continue supporting Lukashenko. Not because Russia wants Lukashenko and Belarus to do well, but because it’s scared of what could come after him. But why exactly does China support Lukashenko?
When Russia began making political demands in exchange for financial aid, Lukashenko refused to yield to these demands as they would lessen his own influence, thus he quickly turned to China. I will add that many experts believed that Lukashenko did this to extract as much benefit as possible from Russia.
Only China can provide aid on the same level as Russia did. Despite Chinese loans being more expensive than Russian ones, China never makes political demands.3 China is smarter in this regard and knows that economic demands sooner or later lead to political influence, and the influenced country often doesn’t even realize this. If we were to speak metaphorically – Russia is a constrictor that corners its prey and attempts to devour it instantly; China too is a constrictor, but it begins this process by gently wrapping around its prey. The outcome of both cases is the same.
So, why is China interested in Belarus? The relations between both countries became closer after China launched its “Belt and Road Initiative” in late 2013. The goal of this initiative is to establish a new trade corridor between China and Europe and to combine two projects – the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road. Belarus’ main advantage is its geographical location as it is the last stop before Europe. This gives Belarus a strategic role in the implementation of China’s plans.4
As I already wrote, China is broadening its influence using economic tools. China’s loans for its projects in Belarus have specific requirements – the equipment used must be procured in China and the work must be carried out mainly by Chinese specialists. For instance, the China-Belarus Great Stone Industrial Park is built mainly by Chinese workers. This means that China is essentially giving loans to itself by creating jobs for its workers and trade opportunities for its companies.
In addition to the economic cooperation between Minsk and Beijing, China is also increasing its “soft power” in Belarus – the Chinese language is now taught in Belarusian schools and at the Minsk airport there are now signs in Chinese next to the Belarusian ones.
For China to be able to fulfill its plans in Belarus, it needs a person supporting its plans to be in power.5 And that person is Lukashenko. And in order for Lukashenko to remain in power, his regime needs money. A quick question – which country was the first to congratulate Lukashenko on his victory in the election, Russia or China? Those who thought it was Russia – you’re wrong.6
We can conclude that both Russia and China have their own reasons for wanting Lukashenko to remain in power. In addition, it was only because of Lukashenko’s political disobedience towards Putin that China was able to enter Belarus. This means that China also wants to prevent someone more loyal to Putin from replacing Lukashenko.
This makes for a situation that cannot be resolved peacefully. Russia wants Lukashenko in power so that a pro-Western president doesn’t take his place and move Belarus closer to Europe. China wants Lukashenko in power so that he isn’t replaced by someone more subservient to Putin. One thing is clear – all of the possible scenarios, except for Lukashenko remaining in power, will lead to either Russia or China losing.
What will both seemingly friendly nations do in that case? Both have invested large amounts of money in Belarus. Will there be any policy changes from the winner of this competition? As I wrote in the beginning, this could result in allies becoming enemies. There is also another possibility – the president of Belarus will be someone who actually cares about the country and its interests, and this would leave both China and Russia as losers.
Unfortunately, I’m not good at drawing because I would want to draw the current situation. Two countries (China and Russia) are feeding and caring for a starved piglet (Lukashenko). Sadly, it’s already too late and nothing can be done to save the piglet. Both disappointed, they start blaming and attacking each other.