Table of contents:
- Difficult relations between Russia and Belarus
- Approximation by the method of exclusion
- A chance to gain control of Belarus
Lukashenka is driven into a corner, and now he will have to go for further rapprochement with Russia, forgetting about "tough diplomacy." Undoubtedly, Putin will defend Lukashenka, but he will demand a very high price from him, the author believes. This rapprochement could be a chance for the Kremlin to “conquer” its “strange neighbor”.
On May 24, the European Union decided to impose sanctions on Belarus. The reason, of course, is that the Lukashenka administration forcibly landed the plane of the Irish airline Ryanair, which was at that time in the Belarusian airspace, and detained the opposition journalist Roman Protasevich, who was on board. In April of this year, the Lukashenka administration declared the media resources with which the journalist was associated as extremist and proceeded to eliminate them.
The EU has decided to impose sanctions on pro-government economic groups, as well as on those responsible for this forced landing and detention of the reporter. Also, the EU urged European airlines not to fly over Belarus. This will lead to the loss of transit fees by the Belarusian government through the airspace. Not only the EU, but also US President Joe Biden issued a statement condemning the actions of Belarus.
Belarus became independent after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. In 1994, the presidential system was introduced, and since then Lukashenko has held the presidency unchanged. The Belarusian leader, dubbed the last dictator in Europe, has often been heavily criticized by the West for its emphasis on human rights and democracy, but Lukashenka’s political methods have become even harsher in recent years.
In Belarus, presidential elections were held in August 2020. President Lukashenko was re-elected as a result of the elimination of candidates from rival parties and other electoral fraud. Calls for his resignation grew louder every day: large-scale protest demonstrations took place in Minsk, but law enforcement officers detained the participants, intensifying the repression. The plane incident occurred against the backdrop of all these events.
Difficult relations between Russia and Belarus
President Lukashenko's authoritarian political methods are reminiscent of his neighbor, Russian President Vladimir Putin. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is not keeping pace with the West, making statements in support of this Belarusian adventure. Russia, like Belarus, is known for its deepening conflict with Europe and the United States, which emphasize human rights and democracy.
At the same time, relations between Russia and Belarus are by no means a “honeymoon”. For example, in December 1999 the parties reached an agreement on the creation of the Union State. President Lukashenko tried to take Russia, which was weakened by the carelessness of former President Boris Yeltsin, under control, but negotiations stalled as the new president, in the person of Vladimir Putin, showed an intention to effectively swallow Belarus.
Moreover, disputes over oil and natural gas periodically arise between Russia and Belarus. Russia supplied it with oil and natural gas at prices below world prices, but it was annoyed by the repeated non-payment of the Belarusian side. Therefore, when Russia tried to reconsider these preferences, President Lukashenko went into conflict.
In January 2015, at the initiative of Russia, the Eurasian Economic Union was created, which is a group of countries of the former USSR.However, when its predecessor, the Eurasian Customs Union, was formed in July 2010, Belarus raised the issue of oil and gas, expressing its reluctance to participate in it. Ultimately, Belarus joined the Customs Union, but for Russia it is still a rebellious neighbor.
In addition, lately Belarus has been moving towards rapprochement with the European Union. In May 2009, the EU and six countries of the former USSR created the Eastern Partnership with an eye on future EU accession. Belarus is still a member of it. This fact cannot be accepted by Russia, which does not trust the EU.
For the Kremlin, Belarus is an important buffer zone between Russia and the EU. In other words, Russia would not want to delve too deeply into the affairs of Belarus, provided there is no danger of its entry into the EU. Russia has shown understanding regarding the Belarusian adventure with the arrest of Protasevich, but it seems that this decision was pragmatic.
Approximation by the method of exclusion
According to Russian media reports, President Lukashenko plans to meet with President Putin on May 28. The Russian leader, of course, will defend his Belarusian counterpart. However, it should be understood that Russia will make these statements because it attaches great importance to Belarus as a buffer zone with the EU.
A deep distrust of Belarus is deeply rooted in Russia. Realist President Putin expresses support if he sees the Lukashenka administration can be used, but will ruthlessly turn his back on it if he thinks there is no benefit. Currently, the relationship between the two countries is certainly close, but it seems that this is just the result of a choice by the method of exclusion against the background of increasing pressure from Europe and the United States.
The European Union will further toughen its attitude towards Belarus as it gets closer to Russia. It is assumed that Moscow, which defends Minsk, will also come under pressure from Europe and the United States. However, again, relations between Belarus and Russia are close only from the point of view of the concept of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” and at the very least it is necessary to take into account Russia's persistent distrust of its western neighbor.
Belarus is a buffer zone for Russia. President Lukashenko has made good use of this geopolitical position, but the EU's diplomatic stance, emphasizing the values of human rights and democracy, is no longer compatible with the administration of the Belarusian leader. Consequently, Russia is the only option for rapprochement. It should be noted that now it will be almost impossible for Lukashenka to conduct tough situational diplomacy with respect to Russia.
A chance to gain control of Belarus
In turn, for the Kremlin, this rapprochement may become an opportunity to conquer its "strange neighbor" Belarus and turn it into a friendly country under the real control of Russia. The stronger the EU pressure on Belarus, the more it has to move closer to Russia, and as a result, the scenario of the Kremlin gaining power over Minsk becomes more and more realistic.
However, do the majority of the inhabitants of Belarus, whose population is about ten million people, agree with such a scenario? This is a separate issue. Meanwhile, it is believed that Belarusians have friendly feelings towards Russia. It would be ironic if most of its citizens, tired of the political methods of President Lukashenko, want to be under the wing of Russia, guided by the principle "the enemy of my enemy is my friend."
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