Expert: Belarus-Russian relations are in a deadlock

Russian President Vladimir Putin has arrived in Minsk with a two-day official visit. This is the first meeting between Putin and his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenka over the past year. The last time the two presidents met was as far back as in December 2006. What issues will the presidents discuss during the summit in Minsk? Andrei Kolesnikov, an observer with the Moscow-based influential business daily Kommersant, shares his views in an interview with the European Radio for Belarus.

Putin’s trip to Minsk is simply a protocol visit

ERB: How did the relations between Putin and Lukashenka begin? Have they changed in the course of the time? How would you describe them as of now?

I think the relations between Vladimir Putin and Alexander Lukasenka began in a quite unclouded manner just because they had not personally known each other but heard a lot about each other. I believe that Putin heard about Lukashenka from Yeltsin, and Lukashenka heard about Putin from Yeltsin as well.

While they continued to learn each other, I have a feeling that those relations deteriorated slowly but steadily. Now they have known each other very well. In my opinion, they have zero relations between themselves at the moment.

ERB: Which period in relations between the two presidents could you describe as the most conducive? When did they have the best mutual understanding?

I think that the Russian president had some illusions over Mr Lukashenka, but those illusions faded away with time. I guess Putin thought for a while that it could be possible to make a deal with the Belarusian president about the union state and about the conditions of this union.

Putin was mistaken to believe that he could make a deal with Lukashenka. But he learned to understand rather quickly that each of the sides had contradictory conditions.

It is indeed impossible to reach a deal, but in the very beginning there was an illusion over the union state, the single currency and the customs union.

ERB: Putin is meeting Lukashenka for the first time in the past year. What does it mean? What issues will be on the summit agenda?

I don’t know about Lukashenka, but I think Putin has no illusions about the union state. His trip to Minsk is just a protocol visit. There will be no breakthrough at the end of the visit. There will be some formal results, but basically this is not serious.

While Lukashenka is at power in Belarus and Putin is at power in Moscow, these relations will not go forward. They will remain at the freezing point. In fact, they got frozen five years ago.

ERB: But there were times when the presidents met quite often…

Even if they met quite regularly, it was simply a tribute to the diplomatic protocol. Everybody realized that there would be no changes in their positions.

Lukashenka will face hard times

ERB: Can we expect any changes in relations between our countries in the near future?

Around one year ago, Russia changed tactics towards Belarus. The decision was made to treat Belarus in accordance with the rules of the market economy. “They don’t want it another way”, I think that’s how they thought in the Kremlin. So, changes in this direction only might be possible today.

I think that Russia could give or at least offer a loan to Belarus. The loan could possibly amount to $1-1.5 billion and used to pay for the Russian energy supplies at higher market-based prices.

Some time later, Russia would try to switch to the world market prices completely. Then, it would be difficult times for Lukashenka.

ERB: After Putin steps down as the Russian president, do you think we should expect some changes in relations between the two countries?

No. Russia’s policy towards Belarus will not change.

ERB: Do you think that the future relations between Lukashenka and Medvedev will resemble the current relations between Lukashenka and Putin?

Yes. I am confident that this will be the way, although Lukashenka might try to change these relations somehow. But let’s face the facts: Lukashenka will not back off from his stance. It means that their relations will not change.

Belarus-Russian relations are in a deadlock

ERB: Can you recall how Putin behaved towards Lukashenka during their last meeting at the CIS summit? You wrote that Putin was sarcastic with Lukashenka by exaggerating attention to the Belarusian president and laughing at him indirectly…

I wouldn’t say that he was mocking at Lukashenka. Putin was ironic. It was an irony within the limits, an irony of the man who was chairing the meeting. He was ironic towards the man who was distracted by unnecessary conversations with unnecessary people.

Putin behaved in this way, because the Belarusian president kept forgetting to vote all the time. We know that all the decisions at CIS summits are taken collectively with a consensus.

ERB: Can you recall any funny cases during the meetings between the Russian and Belarusian presidents?

I think the most hilarious case occurred during the summit in Minsk, when Kommersant’s correspondent Dmitry Azarov and Moskovskiy Komsomolets’s correspondent were not accredited at the summit. They learned about it only upon arrival in Minsk.

This is a well-covered story. I am describing it as a hilarious story because it could not bring any long-lasting consequences. I think that both Putin and Lukashenka knew about it. The fact that they failed to agree even over such a small thing even at the level of ministers proves that personal relations between the presidents and the countries correspondingly are in a deadlock.