By Paul Goble
Recent days have brought new reports suggesting that Moscow is about ready to take some dramatic action in Belarus given its displeasure at the behavior of Alyaksandr Lukashenka, but a Minsk analyst says that such conflicts are a built-in feature of the bilateral relationship and predicts that the two sides will find a way out without a sharp break.
After Lukashenka failed to attend a Eurasian Economic Community summit in St. Petersburg at the end of December, the media in Moscow and elsewhere have been full of suggestions that Putin is so angry about the Belarusian leader’s behavior that he may be prepared to take radical moves against him.
Michal Potock, a Polish analyst, wrote this week that the Russian-Belarusian conflict is “intensifying” and involving more and more aspects of the bilateral relationship between the two (gazetaprawna.pl/artykuly/1007310,rok-2017-presjarosji-na-bialorus.html; in Russia at charter97.org/ru/news/2017/1/4/236512/).
Arkady Minakov, a historian at Voronezh State University, told the Regnum news agency that “today in Belarus it is possible to observe the very same processes which led to the ‘Maidan’ [in Ukraine] and to all the events there that followed,” an implicit suggestion Moscow might intervene (regnum.ru/news/polit/2224191.html).
And Moscow television is planning a program for January 11 entitled “Who Will Replace Lukashenka?” Its producers have even gone so far as to invite Natalya Radina, the chief editor of the Belarusian opposition portal, Charter 97. She turned them down because she said she feared being arrested in Moscow (charter97.org/ru/news/2017/1/4/236523/).
But Denis Melyantsov, a senior analyst at the Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies, says today that such concerns are misplaced because “conflict is at the very foundation of Belarusian-Russian cooperation” and that after the latest round of criticism, the two sides will again find a compromise (thinktanks.by/publication/2017/01/04/denis-melyantsov-bez-konfliktov-s-rossiey-ne-oboydemsya-diplomatiya-skandala-firmennyy-stil.html).
“’Diplomatic scandals’ are the style of communication between Minsk and Moscow as far as the resolution of economic issues is concerned. Therefore one need not consider the current conflict as something extraordinary … Neither Moscow nor Minsk is interested now in the escalation of the conflict and so one way or another a compromise will be found.”
To be sure, Melyantsov says, “Belarusian-Russian tensions always stimulate Minsk’s dialogue with the West, but that doesn’t mean that this is the only motive involved.” And the agenda between Minsk and the EU is now sufficiently broad that it will continue as well even after a Belarusian-Russian agreement.
According to the BISS analyst, it is likely that Belarus and the EU will sign an agreement on simplifying the visa regime between them this year and that the quota on Belarusian textiles will be increased.” Belarus may get more money from the EU, and “also possible are visits at a high level,” something Lukashenka has long wanted and not had.