Thursday, September 10, 2020

Belarus Warning Update: Lukashenko Resists Moscow’s Pressure for Economic Integration

September 10, 2020, 8:45 pm EDT

By George Barros 

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko likely assesses his position against the protesters has stabilized to the point that he can resume balancing against Kremlin efforts to absorb Belarus though the Union State. The Kremlin will likely intensify pressure against Lukashenko nevertheless.

The Kremlin is attempting to accelerate Union State integration with Belarus by expanding the intended scope of its annual regional economic forum.[1] The initial purpose of this forum was to advance Russian-Belarusian Union State economic integration at local firm-to-firm levels.[2] Kremlin officials said this year’s forum will culminate in the signing of “important economic agreements” and that Russian-Belarusian economic cooperation occurs at local, regional, and federal levels.[3] Lukashenko pushed back against Kremlin efforts to expand the scope of the forum and stressed the forum will continue to work “at the enterprise level.”[4] Lukashenko will likely continue to stall by attempting to limit integration to levels below those of the Kremlin's desires.[5] He disregarded Russian Ambassador Dmitry Mezentsev’s pressure at a September 10 meeting to commit Belarus to significantly deeper economic integration with Russia during his upcoming meeting with Putin in Moscow.[6]

The Kremlin continues to support Lukashenko in the information space despite his renewed efforts to balance against Moscow’s pressure. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said a “huge number of Belarusians” support Lukashenko despite the protests on September 10.[7] The Kremlin will likely continue to support Lukashenko against protests despite his growing resistance to the Kremlin Lukashenko likely currently provides the Kremlin its best opportunity to ensure Russia’s long-term dominance over Belarus, and Putin is showing concern that Belarusian protests could spread to Russia.[8] The Kremlin still retains the option of supporting alternate leadership in Belarus if its assessment of Lukashenko’s reliability changes, however.

Approximately 19 masked men raided Kremlin-linked opposition leader Viktar Babariko’s office in Minsk on September 9.[9] Belarusian Interior Ministry police responded to the break-in but the masked men did not permit police in the office, claiming they themselves were conducting an investigation they are “not authorized” to discuss.[10]

The men may have searched the office for evidence regarding opposition leader Maria Kolesnikova’s criminal prosecution or potential links to the Kremlin. Belarusian authorities formally imprisoned Kolesnikova and charged her with calls to incite a coup d’etat on September 9.[11] Kolesnikova worked out of Babariko’s office prior to her abduction on September 7.[12] It is unclear whether the unknown men captured or destroyed materials from the office.

Russian Ambassador Dmitry Mezentsev demonstrated Moscow’s view of Belarus as part of Russia in a meeting with Lukashenko in Minsk on September 10. Menzentsev gave Lukashenko a book with maps from 1866 depicting Belarus’ regions as provinces of the Russian Empire.[13] Mezentsev reiterated Lukashenko’s September 1 statement that Belarusians see Russia and Belarus as a common “fatherland from Brest to Vladivostok,” further implying Belarus was and will be a subject under a larger Russian domain.[14]

Credit: The Picture Art Collection / Alamy Stock Photo

Caption: European Russia in 1856. This map is NOT the one Ambassador Menzentsev gave Lukashenko, and shows Russian borders in Europe as of 1856. There was no change in those borders between 1856 and the date of the book Menzentsev gave Lukashenko. Note that the Russian Empire of that time included Finland, Moldova, the Baltic States and central Poland, including Warsaw. 

ISW will continue monitoring the situation and providing updates.

[1] Belarus and Russia will hold their sixth annual “Forum of Regions” on September 28-29. https://tass(.)ru/ekonomika/9419259

[2] https://rg(.)ru/2020/09/09/do-foruma-regionov-belarusi-i-rossii-v-minske-ostalos-menshe-treh-nedel.html; http://cis.minsk(.)by/news/3213/v-minske-sostoalsa-pervyj-forum-regionov-belarusi-i-rossii

[3] https://www.belta(.)by/president/view/lukashenko-belarus-i-rossija-znachitelno-prodvinulis-v-reshenii-nakopivshihsja-problem-i-zadach-406221-2020/; https://www.belta(.)by/politics/view/mezentsev-rossija-i-belarus-vmeste-406238-2020/; https://rg(.)ru/2020/09/10/prezident-belarusi-vstretilsia-s-poslom-rossii-dmitriem-mezencevym.html; https://sputnik(.)by/economy/20200903/1045612341/Matvienko-podgotovka-k-forumu-regionov-Belarusi-i-Rossii-idet-aktivno.html; https://www.belta(.)by/president/view/lukashenko-belarus-i-rossija-znachitelno-prodvinulis-v-reshenii-nakopivshihsja-problem-i-zadach-406221-2020/; https://www.belta(.)by/politics/view/mezentsev-rossija-i-belarus-vmeste-406238-2020/

[4] https://www.belta(.)by/president/view/lukashenko-belarus-i-rossija-znachitelno-prodvinulis-v-reshenii-nakopivshihsja-problem-i-zadach-406221-2020/


[6] https://www.belta(.)by/president/view/lukashenko-belarus-i-rossija-znachitelno-prodvinulis-v-reshenii-nakopivshihsja-problem-i-zadach-406221-2020/

[7] https://rg(.)ru/2020/09/10/peskov-zaiavil-o-bolshoj-podderzhke-belorusami-lukashenko.html

[8] https://tass(.)com/politics/1198937

[9]; https://ria(.)ru/20200909/babariko-1576970333.html

[10] https://t(.)me/nexta_tv/4021; https://ria(.)ru/20200909/babariko-1576970333.html



[13] https://www.rbc(.)ru/rbcfreenews/5f5a23a89a79477f9a58bfc0; https://www.tvr(.)by/news/prezident/dmitriy_mezentsev_podaril_aleksandru_lukashenko_knigu_s_topograficheskimi_kartami_guberniy_1866_goda/

[14] https://sputnik(.)by/politics/20200910/1045653581/Mezentsev-rukovodstvo-Belarusi-natseleno-na-rasshirenie-otnosheniy-s-Rossiey.html;