The Kremlin sends yet another warning signal to Minsk
Before the elections, the Kremlin mildly reminded the Belarusian authorities about their yet not fulfilled commitments concerning the state property privatization. Simultaneously, Moscow has indicated that it has not welcomed the aggravation in EU-Belarus relations provoked by the latter and that it will not take tough measures in response to the European sanctions.
On September 6th, Belarusian office of Russian news agency “Interfax” published an interview with a senior adviser at the Russian Embassy in Minsk Valeri Bondarenko.
The most important statement made by Embassy’s Senior Adviser was a reminder about the terms of credit and economic cooperation between Russia and Belarus. Mr. Bondarenko recalled a number of last summer visits to Minsk by senior Russian officials: from President Putin to State Duma heads. It is known that the main subject of talks during these visits was the privatization of Belarusian enterprises (MAZ, Belaruskali) and it is also known that Minsk is delaying the fulfillment of its obligations.
Simultaneously, the Adviser assessed the volume of economic support from Russia to Belarus – mutual duty-free trade in oil and oil products, and other factors – more than USD 6 billion – and emphasized that the European Union was not able to provide comparable support to Belarus.
Finally, Mr. Bondarenko send a strong signal that Russia was not interested in another loop of crisis in the relations between Belarus and the EU. In particular, he reiterated the August statement by Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov, who said that Russia would not take strong measures in response to the European sanctions against their Belarusian partner and suggested the following foreign policy formula: “any positive developments in the Belarus – EU relations will automatically have a positive impact on relations with Russia”.
The mentioned above nuances in the interview with Mr. Bondarenko should be regarded as yet another diplomatic reminder to the Belarus’ authorities about unfulfilled commitments. Mr. Bondarenko’s statements imply that Russia will continue to ignore the deterioration of the Belarus-EU crisis and will not make allowances. In the meanwhile, naphtha supply from Russia to Belarus is still suspended, which has a negative impact on the Belarusian foreign trade balance.
President Lukashenka has met with the head of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov, who visited Minsk and the Minsk Automobile Plant. Minsk has always sought to have independent links with Russian regional elites, partially, to compensate for the Kremlin's diminishing interest in Belarus. In recent years, Belarus’ contacts with the Russian regions have been extremely intense. However, with some leaders of Russian regions, primarily heads of large republics, communication was more difficult to build. As many analysts in Minsk suggested, Minsk could regard contacts between President Lukashenka and the head of Chechnya as an additional communication channel for relieving tension in relations with the Kremlin. However, most likely, a trusting relationship with Kadyrov is a value for Minsk as such, provided Kadyrov’s broad business and political interests, and a high degree of autonomy for the Chechen leader from the Kremlin.