April 13, 2017 - Fort Russ -
By Eduard Popov - translated by J. Arnoldski -
Consolation for the allies of Eurasian integration came from Belorussia today: President Lukashenko signed a package of documents concerning the development of Eurasian integration. Among them is the Customs Code of the Eurasian Economic Union. Earlier the Belorussian side had refused to sign the EEU Customs Code because it believed that the document did not meet Belorussia’s national interests. In December 2016, Lukashenko even refused to participate in the summit of EEU member state heads at which the document was signed.
But now, from the standpoint of official Minsk, Eurasian integration meets Belorussia’s national interests.
Yet another piece of news is that Belorussia has fully repaid its debt for the gas delivered between 2016 and 2017 in the amount of $726.2 million. This in turn opens up the possibility of crude oil being supplied to Belorussian refineries from Russia in the previous volume.
Overall, we can say that the most acute phase of disputes between the members of the Union State has passed. But nevertheless, one painful question remains which goes beyond bilateral relations and concerns basic human rights, in particular freedom of speech.
I’ve already written for Fort Russ about the arrest on December 5th, 2016 of three scholars from Belorussia: Yury Pavlovets, Dmitry Alimkin, and Sergey Shiptenko. They are charged with the crime of “inciting ethnic hatred” (!?) and leveling disparaging statements against the state of Belorussia. The real motive behind the arrest, or rather one of the real reasons, is that Pavlovets and Shiptenko co-authored a book called The Economy of Belorussia: Historical Overviews of the 20th-21st Centuries, in which they revealed the mechanisms of how Lukashenko’s Belorussia parasitically feeds off of the union with Russia and is only simulating the process of integration. This was an idea which they consistently put forth in their articles.
I’ve also pointed out the strange circumstance that these scholars were arrested during the Minsk visit of a delegation from Poland’s Senate and Sejm. This is hardly a coincidence. In my opinion, some in the Belorussian President’s circle wanted to send a message to the effect of “We (the authorities of Belorussia) are ready to distance ourselves from Moscow as much as possible.” The arrest of these Belorussian scholars was one of the symbolic (but for those arrested themselves and their loved ones very real) steps of the Belorussian leadership “towards Europe” away from Moscow.
I also do not think that it is accidental that many details of the imprisonment of Polish scholar and anti-NATO opposition figure Mateusz Piskorski in Warsaw on May 18th, 2016 and the arrest of the Belorussian scholars coincide. First and foremost, Lukashenko wanted to show solidarity with official Warsaw through this imitation of the actions of Polish authorities. Piskorski was accused of espionage on behalf of Russia (sic!) as well as China and Iran (?!). The Belorussian scholars were not pressed with such absurd charges, but Belorussian official media and establishment representatives’ statements have been full of rather transparent allusions to the “insidious role of Moscow.”
That EU representatives have adamantly called for the release of those arrested at protests in Minsk and other cities of Belorussia, some of them with weapons in hand, but have not uttered a word about the arrested scholars is further proof of the geopolitical nature of their arrest. For now, Pavlovets, Shiptenko, and Alimkin are in prison, and the lack of condemnation serves as a tacit endorsement of President Lukashenko’s pro-Western vector.
Therefore, the current warming in relations between these two fraternal countries, Russia and Belorussia, might only be temporary. Official Minsk is concerned with acute social discontent and economic problems. Only Russia is capable of helping mitigate these problems. But does President Lukashenko understand this? Undoubtedly, but he has been in power for 23 years, and many other members of his entourage have been in power for such a long time and have established horizontal clan ties within the country and abroad. Over these long years in power, Lukashenko has become accustomed to obedience and faith in his own infallibility. Thus, he is dangerously dependent on his entourage. As a point of comparison, even the brilliant politician Stalin was the hostage of his inner circle in the last years of his life.
One fatal mistake that he committed under the influence of his entourage was Decree No.3 on so-called “spongers” or “social parasites.” It was namely this decree that drew tens of thousands of outraged people out onto the streets of Belorussian cities. Hundreds of thousands more, if not millions, quietly sympathized with them. Another fatal mistake is quarreling with Russia. The three scholars are the victims of this squabble.
President Lukashenko is being pushed towards hasty steps by people in his inner circle. Their goal is discrediting him in the eyes of the people by adopting anti-social laws (such as the decree on “spongers”), discrediting him in the eyes of his only ally, Russia, and thus provoking economic and social crisis with the possibility of a coup d’etat.
The arrest of the three scholars is a link in the chain of these politics. Yet another link is formed by the rumors of an impending “Russian invasion” under the guise of the West-2017 military exercises. These rumors are being spun by pro-Western media and NGO’s, and probably by some within the President’s inner circle.
President Lukashenko might have partially unriddled this game. On April 8th, Lukashenko criticized his subordinates for the “spongers decree”, which he alleged would have had fewer contradictory aspects if it had been worked on by competent experts. Most likely, soon enough there will be a purge of the state apparatus of such “incompetent” experts. Perhaps this purge will touch the upper layer of the establishment as well, which has framed President Lukashenko in the eyes of his own people and Russian ally.
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