The meeting between Lukashenko and Putin in Sochi generated a lot of satirical memes commenting on the position of both leaders. However, what was missing were official statements, agreements and comments. The specifics on what support Minsk will receive will be hammered out in government bureaus and offices of Russian energy companies in Moscow and Petersburg – Mariusz Marszałkowski, editor at BiznesAlert.pl, writes.
The first giveaway of Moscow’s attitude towards Lukashenko was the fact that he was welcomed at the airport in Sochi by a delegation led by the governor of the Krasnoyarsk Krai. Just a day earlier the governor had won the local elections, and according to the official results, he received 83 percent of the vote. During the discussions on a union state between Russia and Belarus, Lukashenko often stressed that he was not interested in making Belarus another federal district of Russia and becoming a provincial governor himself.
The meeting between Alexander Lukashenko and Vladimir Putin lasted four hours. The politicals talked one on one, without any members of their delegations. After the meeting a customary joint statement was not issued and no declaration was signed.
According to Kremlin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov, the leaders talked mostly about business relations, trade and the economic situation in both countries. They did not talk about the construction of Russian military bases in Belarus. Lukashenko thanked Putin and Russians for their support and highlighted the close relations between the two nations.
Few specifics, but all “positive”
One of the few specific details that were announced after the meeting was that Russia would loan Belarus USD 1.5 bn. Some of the money will be spent on repaying Minsk’s old loans to Moscow. It was also revealed that the reserve force of Russian security officers that had been established to support Belarus’s security forces if necessary, would be withdrawn from the Russian-Belarusian border. Additionally, both presidents promised to instruct the most important companies in both countries to intensify their business cooperation, to stop the plummeting of trade. The talks also pertained to relaxing transport restrictions introduced due to the coronavirus, organizing the Forum of Regions and conducting joint military exercises.
Peskov also announced that Belarus would receive a batch of the coronavirus vaccine developed by Russian scientists.
Moreover, Putin supported Lukashenko’s initiative on constitutional reform. The Belarusian president ensured that he would seek reforms, and that he would form a team of people responsible for preparing them. In his opinon, Belarus should be closer to its “older brother” – Russia.
Peskov only revealed what was worth presenting to the public opinion right after the meeting. There was no talk about Russian expectations on closer integration or on recognizing Crimea. He also did not mention anything about energy diversification, or the debt to Gazprom. However, it is rather doubtful that during a four-hour talk none of these topics were discussed.
Still, Moscow did not want to expose Lukashenko’s vulnerability, especially that hundreds of thousands of people have been protesting in Minsk, as well as in dozens of smaller towns across the country, for over a month. For now, it was enough for Putin to humiliate Lukashenko by sending the inappropriate welcoming committee and acting disrespectfully during the denouncing of NATO for being a threat to Russia and Belarus.
The time will come for Belarus to foot the bill, but for now the Kremlin decided that stabilizing the situation was a priority. This is why the opposition in Belarus was not rhetorically attacked by Russia, like in the case of Ukraine during its political transition in 2014.
Before the meeting with Putin, Moscow had provided a list of its expectations to Belarus. I speculated what may be on that list in an article on BiznesAlert.pl.
We will need to wait for specific decisions. However, they will not be formulated directly, so a lot of reading between the lines will be necessary. Still, the meeting left room for interpretation of the agreement to widen the cooperation between the countries’ biggest companies. The scope of this statement is so wide that it may entail anything between new contracts for, e.g. oil or natural gas, and deep changes in the ownership in some Belarusian companies.