Minsk doubts success of Kremlin’s integration projects

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April 22, 2016 18:46

President Lukashenko attended the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council meeting in Moscow for head of states regarding the establishment of the Eurasian Economic Union. 

President Lukashenko, backed by President Nazarbayev, is increasing pressure on the Kremlin to advance his interests in the Customs Union. The head of the Belarusian state questions the implementation of the Eurasian project by conditioning its success on solving key Belarusian issues – oil and gas exemptions. Should Russia get involved in a long-standing conflict with Ukraine, the Belarusian government will hope for the Kremlin’s position to weaken, allowing Belarus to promote its interests. 

A meeting between the presidents of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia to discuss the treaty of the Eurasian Economic Union had been planned for an later date but was shifted forward The Kremlin planned to receive support of its allies as regards its activities on the territory of Ukraine.

However, both the Belarusian and Kazakh leaders have a completely different view of the crisis in Russian-Ukrainian relations. They do not support a heavy-handed approach to solving the Ukrainian conflict, fearing the increased pressure of the Kremlin on their own states, too. As was carefully stated by President Lukashenko, ‘We probably shouldn’t be glancing around, but focussing on our own business, our own states. We will then be respected and appreciated.’

In turn, Lukashenko’s main headache is the lack of progress in resolving sensitive  issues related to oil and gas, although the signing of the draft treaty for the establishment of the EAU is planned in May this year. That being said, both the Belarusian and  Kazakh leadership are attempting to exploit the vulnerability of the Kremlin’s position while its attention is focused on  the situation in  Ukraine.

So far the Russian leadership has not tackled the most sensitive Belarusian issues, namely abandoning oil and gas exemptions. As noted by the Belarusian President : ‘Our principled position is  that the establishment of the Eurasian Economic Union should be based on the fully-fledged Customs Union without exceptions including excise duties, quantitative restrictions or anything else’.

President Lukashenko has started to doubt the likelihood of implementing  the Kremlin’s integration projects. The head of  state draws parallels with other similar initiatives in the post-Soviet space noting that ‘people have been waiting for some normal steps towards the establishment of some normal relations within the CIS, but the union has not come to fruition’.

Besides, for official Minsk it is important that Ukraine participates in the EAU. At the same time the value of this integration project would decrease significantly forBelarus should Kiev sign the association agreement with the EU. It is noteworthy that official Minsk has a serious economic interest in cooperating with Ukraine. For example, last year 11.3% of Belarusian exports went to Ukraine with a huge export surplus for Belarus.

Thus, as the date of signing the treaty to  establish the EAU is approaching, the contradictions between the Belarusian and Kazakh leadership, on the one hand, and the Kremlin, on the other, will grow Irrespective of oil and gas issues official Minsk will hamper and/or sabotage the establishment of the fully-fledged integration association on the Kremlin’s terms. Should Russia get involved in a long-standing conflict with Ukraine, the Belarusian government will hope for the Kremlin’s position to weaken, allowing Belarus to promote its interests.

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President Lukashenka continues to rotate staff and rejuvenate heads of departments and universities following new appointments in regional administrations. Apparently, new Information Minister Karliukevich could somewhat relax the state policy towards the independent media and introduce technological solutions for retaining control over Belarus’ information space. New rectors could strengthen the trend for soft Belarusization in the regions and tighten the disciplinary and ideological control over the student movement in the capital.

President Lukashenka has appointed new ministers of culture and information, the new rector of the Belarusian State University and heads of three universities, assistants in the Minsk and Vitebsk regions.

The new Information Minister Karliukevich is likely to avoid controversial initiatives similar to those former Minister Ananich was famous for, however, certainly within his capacities. Nevertheless, the appointment of Belarusian-speaking writer Karliukevich could be regarded as the state’s cautious attempt to relax environment in the media field and ensure the sovereignty of national media.

The Belarusian leadership has consolidated the trend for mild Belarusization by appointing a young historian and a ‘reasonable nationalist’, Duk as the rector at the Kuleshov State University in Mogilev. Meanwhile, while choosing the head of the Belarusian State University, the president apparently had in mind the strengthening of the ideological loyalty among the teaching staff and students at the main university in order to keep the youth movement at bay. Previously, Korol was the rector of the Kupala State University in Grodno, where he held purges among the disloyal teaching staff.

The trend for the renewal of mid-ranking executives and their rejuvenation has confirmed. The age of the Culture Minister and three new rectors varies from 39 to 44 years old.