Will Lukashenko find comfort in the west?

Anatoly Kudriavtsev

Relations between Minsk and Moscow will not be the same. These were the comments of the Kremlin press office in response to Dmitry Medvedev's video blog posting, where the Russian president evaluated the actions of his Belarusian counterpart.

In 16 years of his presidency Alexander Lukashenko got used to a certain format of friendship with Moscow, with a particular type of role allocation. For himself, Lukashenko reserved the role of the person who is allowed to say whatever he likes, whenever he likes. Meanwhile, Moscow got the part of the generous, big-hearted and most importantly patient partner, charged not only with ensuring the economic prosperity of Lukashenko's regime, but also with forgiving his comments on Russian leadership.

This is not the first time Lukashenko's comments have caused a stir. However this time, in exercising his rhetoric, Lukashenko seems to have crossed a line that even Russian patience cannot withstand. Medvedev responded, but in his own way, which is entirely different from Lukashenko's manner. Medvedev's answer is a short, sharp and very firm speech of a person, who has had something to say for a long time. As regards the anti-Russian rhetoric, which has heightened in anticipation of the Belarusian elections, Medvedev says:

"The desire to work up an image of an external enemy in the minds of the public has been a trademark move of the Belarusian leadership. However in the past, this part was played by the U.S., Europe and the West in general. Now, Russia has been declared as one of the key enemies".

On the subject of Lukashenko's comments on Russia's domestic affairs, Medvedev notes that the Belarusian president ought to concern himself with the internal affairs of his country, "including, at long last investigating cases of people's disappearance". Lukashenko has never heard such words from the Kremlin before. So, if the relationship will not be the same, what will it be like? An expert at the Institute of CIS countries, Vladimir Zharikhin, comments:

"Economic and political cooperation between Russia and Belarus will continue only on the basis of agreements that have been officially signed and entered into - for example, the Customs Union and the Union State. However, preferences on the basis of verbal agreements will not be given, as they have been in the past. This will probably be the difference."

Can Lukashenko, having ruined his relationship with Moscow, find comfort in Brussels? And is the EU capable of supporting Lukashenko, on counterbalance with Moscow? Head of the Centre for studies of the post-Soviet space Alexey Vlasov comments:

"Certainly, the activities of Brussels demonstrate double standards in relation to the post-Soviet space. The desire to undermine Russia may rank higher than the aim of upholding democratic standards, which the Belarus does not fully adhere to. There's a fifty-fifty split here, so to speak. But judging by the rhetoric of official Brussels, one shouldn't expect the Euro-bureaucrats to openly support the Belarusian leader."

It is not a given that the anti-Russian approach will prevail over common sense in Brussels. And if Lukashenko decides to wage bets on contradictions between Moscow and Brussels, he may find himself bitterly disappointed.


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