For some time, there was really nothing new to write about regarding the events in Belarus. The people continued their peaceful protests against the fraudulent presidential election, Lukashenko continued lying and law enforcement continued demonstrating that they are in good physical condition and know how to employ special equipment. The fact that at times well-prepared burly men used force against women and children is just a small detail, or – as Lukashenko would say – just a fake. But there is one thing new, i.e. the army, whose duty is to protect the people, is being used against the people.
But the most anticipated event was Lukashenko’s meeting with Putin. What changes can we now expect, and was this a meeting between two people of the same status? They’re both presidents of a state, after all.
Let’s begin with the status. We won’t focus as much on what was said, but more on different facts and indications.
Lukashenko’s arrival and welcoming in Sochi was akin to a Russian governor visiting a different region. His airplane landed on the edge of the airfield and he was greeted by 5-6 people.1 There was no solemn ceremony or even a carpet next to the airplane, not to mention the lack of an anthem and honor guards. There is strict international protocol on how presidents of other states should be greeted, but there was none of that this time. The only difference between a Russian governor’s visit was that Lukashenko arrived in his own airplane.
It is also important to look at the body language of both leaders. We can see in photographs that Putin is sitting confidently like an emperor on his throne and looking at Lukashenko as a lesser being. And Lukashenko is sitting on the edge of the chair, and his body language makes him look like a beggar at the altar, not a president of a state and an equal to Putin. In a different photo we can see Lukashenko writing down whatever Putin is telling him – just like the entourage of Kim Jong-un usually does.
We can see that Putin and Lukashenko are not in equal positions. The vassal hasn’t come to talk, but instead to write down the wishes of his lord.
A similar opinion was expressed by Director of the Latvian Institute of International Affairs Andris Sprūds in the broadcast Šodienas Jautājums (Today’s Question), who said: “Judging by the body language during the meeting of both presidents, Vladimir Putin will be the one determining the course of events in Belarus. Lukashenko arrived with a white flag and is now in Putin’s pocket. Putin will decide what happens in Belarus and when Lukashenko leaves his post.”2
To summarize – both the greeting and photographs from the meeting show that Putin doesn’t consider Lukashenko an equal, but rather his subordinate who has humbly arrived to receive instructions and mercy from his master.
It is also important to note that the meeting took place eye to eye, which means that the public will never know what both men discussed. So, why all the secrecy? It’s hard to give a clear answer, but usually meetings are held this way when no one can know what has been discussed, most often because the majority of people would be against it. And here I mean the people of Belarus. I will add that the meeting was four hours long.
Let’s talk about what was discussed during the meeting. The meeting can be divided into several sections, but the essence of the entire meeting was to create conditions for Lukashenko to remain in power – if the quality of life of the Belarusian people decreases, even more people could take to the streets. So, the meeting was not only about the election, but the economic situation as well.
Let’s get into the details. First, the presidents discussed increasing trade between both countries. It wasn’t, however, specified if this would be a bilateral effort or whether Belarus would simply be forced to import more Russian produce. They also discussed oil deliveries, and as we know this issue has always been on the agenda of Russian-Belarusian relations. Belarus tried to give up the Russian oil needle but failed. It just happened that during this meeting both leaders were able to reach an agreement on oil and gas prices – something that was impossible for the last 1.5 years.
Russia will not only hand out a loan of 1.5 billion USD to Belarus, but also refinance its debt of one billion USD.
An agreement was reached that Belarus will receive Russia’s Sputnik Covid-19 vaccine for phase 3 tests. It seems that Russians themselves didn’t want to be the guinea pigs of the new vaccine.
Interestingly, all the announcements talk about what Russia will give to Belarus, but no one has said anything about what Belarus will have to give in return. Has Putin really become this friendly and helpful? If you really believe this, I kindly ask you to wake up.
But the most interesting part was the announcement on Russian military bases in Belarus – something that Lukashenko has always been strictly against. It was stated that this issue wasn’t discussed during the meeting, but at the same time added that Russia’s support for Lukashenko because of such a decision “has nothing to do with reality”.3 Now I’m confused – did they discuss the issue or didn’t they?
However, the confusion disappears when you look at the next announcement.
Putin said that he recognizes Lukashenko as the legitimately elected president of Belarus. The Russian president also noted that Lukashenko’s work on the new constitution of Belarus is timely, and due to Lukashenko’s experience he will be able to successfully handle changing the political system. I must agree with Putin on this because Lukashenko indeed has experience with changing the political system – thanks to one such change, Lukashenko has been systematically increasing his authority since 1996. It’s a different issue whether this was legitimate, but Putin isn’t concerned by such details.
Let’s look at Putin’s next statement: the Belarusian people have to deal with this complicated issue and reach an agreement with the current regime without outside help. Russia adheres to all of the treaties it has signed, including the treaties on the creation of the Union State and the CSTO. Russia considers Belarus its closest ally and will, without a doubt, fulfill all of its obligations.
It was well know that one of the main topics of the meeting would be the Treaty on the Creation of a Union State, or in more diplomatic terms – closer integration between Russian and Belarus. But what does “closer integration” really mean?
I looked at the treaty and selected some articles so it’s easier to understand where Putin and Lukashenko are heading.
Article 4: “To reach the goals of the Union State, the Highest State Council, Parliament, Council of Ministers, Court of the Union State and an Accounting Chamber shall be established.” Article 5 stipulates: “The Union State is a secular, democratic, social and just state that recognizes political and ideological diversity. Article 10 says that the Union State has its own coat of arms, flag, anthem and other national symbols.
Looking at this information, it becomes evident that one country will devour the other. Therefore, it is understandable that at this point Putin doesn’t care about Russian military bases in Belarus, because the events currently taking place will end with Belarus becoming a part of Russia.
I believe it’s most likely that Putin felt that this is his opportunity to become the president of the Union State and for this reason decided to help Lukashenko and do everything he can so his Belarusian counterpart remains president. And it was not because Putin feels sorry for Lukashenko or is concerned about his fate. No, his reasoning is entirely different and more practical. Lukashenko has been cornered, and without Putin’s assistance he won’t be able to remain in power for long – but this isn’t an option for Lukashenko, because once he loses power he will have to answer for his crimes. That is why Lukashenko is forgetting all of his principles and willing to do everything. Alas, Lukashenko hasn’t thought about what a master does to a dog that bites the hand that feeds. Some good-natured masters wouldn’t do anything, but Putin definitely doesn’t belong in this category.
Therefore, we can conclude that Lukashenko was in Sochi to write down Putin’s instructions on what the new constitution should look like – it mustn’t interfere with the plans of establishing a Union State.
We can be certain that Lukashenko’s impudence will result in his new constitution being presented as mere amendments to the existing one, meaning that a referendum will not be required for its approval. On the other hand, we know that Lukashenko is an expert on falsifying any vote in his favor.
Additionally, no one talks about the numerous documents that have already been signed and which will surface at the right moment, furthering Belarus’ closer integration into Russia, or in simpler terms – allowing Putin to devour Belarus.
A question arises: what will happen to Lukashenko afterwards? It’s difficult to predict, but one thing is certain – Putin will not forgive Lukashenko’s “freewheeling acts”, so there can be no talk of him remaining in power, because the post of president has been reserved for Putin himself. It is also unlikely that Putin will give Lukashenko an influential position of any kind – the best he can hope for is being the director of some far-away collective farm.
Next question: what will happen to those Belarusians who protested against Lukashenko being president?
After his meeting with Putin, Lukashenko will start behaving like a small dog, who becomes brave, loud and aggressive only when his master is behind him.
This means that this is the only chance for the Belarusian people to get rid of their “Batya” without spilling much blood. But it is only a matter of time when Putin replaces him. After that, the only chance for Belarusians to be free will be when Putin’s reign ends, and it is clear that this won’t happen peacefully. Belarusians are now fighting against Lukashenko as much as they’re fighting against Putin.
And for the rest of the world this is an exclusive opportunity to watch one dictator eliminate the other – and history has shown us that all dictators eventually fall.