Power may change in Belarus in 2017.
Relations between Russia and Belarusian have deteriorated significantly in 2016. The destiny of a number of integration projects managed by the Kremlin are under question. And while Moscow is declaring that Belarus cannot get away from Russia, the mass media is openly discussing the perspective of Lukashenka's dismissal and occupation of Belarus. Belarusian experts think, that such scenario can threaten Ukraine with unpredictable consequences.
2016 was marked by incessant scandals between Moscow and Minsk. The notorious event of this week was that Aliaksandr Lukashenka ignored the summit of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEC) in St. Petersburg, where the Customs Code was to be signed – the basic document regulating the customs relations in EAEC. Four of the five members of the Eurasian Union have agreed on the Customs Code, while Lukashenka stayed in Minsk to hold a meeting on "Ensuring safety of citizens during Christmas and New Year holidays."
The Russian Press-Secretary Dmitry Peskov had to give explanations on Lukashenka's behavior. He reported with confidence, that, say, the head of the neighboring country was a busy man, but that was okay, they would send him the summit documents and Aliaksandr Lukashenka would sign them all (it is assumed that the EAEC Customs Code will come into force July 1, 2017).
It should be noted, that Lukashenka has demonstrated such disobedience to the Kremlin before. Thus, trying to win more preferences for himself, he refused to join the Customs Union. However, the head of Belarus signed all the documents after a powerful anti-Lukashenka information campaign in Russia.
Besides, not long ago, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Belarus has summoned Minister Counsellor of the Russian Embassy Vadim Gusev. The Foreign Ministry of Belarus voiced protest against the statements disseminated in news media by the director of the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies Leonid Reshetnikov, who said that the Belarusian language was only 90 years old and that Belarus was "a historic part of Great Russia."In its turn, the Deputy Foreign Minister of Russia Grigory Karasin met with the Ambassador of Belarus to Russia Ihar Piatrishenka. According to the laconic report of the press service of the Russian Foreign Ministry, the sides exchanged views"on urgent issues of Belarusian-Russian cooperation."
Nothing unusual has happened at first sight, just diplomatic routine, if not to take into account that nothing like this has been happening for the last 15 years. And Reshetnikov (and not only him) wore out with talk shortly after he became aware of the arrest of the Russian news agency Regnum authors, Belarusian citizens Yury Paulavets, Dzmitry Alimkin and Siarhei Shyptsenka. Employees of the Belarusian law-enforcement bodies accused them of inciting ethnic hatred and enmity, scoring them up the remarks about "subnation" or "substate" regarding Belarusians and Belarus.
In autumn 2016, Russian media again started campaign, which was not so much against Lukashenka, it was rather an anti-Belarusian one. Allegedly, nationalism is raising its head in Belarus, the power is indulging it, and Lukashenka is bit by bit "slipping away to the West". This fact looks as least worrisome on the back of the events in Ukraine, happening for the last three years. The information, released at the end of this year, that the Russian Federation Ministry of Defense intends to redeploy to the territory of Belarus more than 4 million tons of military goods under the guise of training exercises "West" in 2017, adds oil to the flame. The Belarusian opposition has already been forced to declare: the independence and sovereignty of Belarus appears to be under the threat.
So far Lukashenka chooses not to demonstrate systemic resistance to Russia (Belarus is still voting in solidarity with the Russian Federation at the international institutions), but one-time demonstrations of cussedness. The parties continue to demonstrate active cooperation in many respects. So, two weeks ago, Aliaksandr Lukashenka issued a decree which approves the project of the agreement with Russia. According to it, the Belarusian special forces will participate in counter-terrorist operations on the territory of Belarus and the Russian Federation.
At the same time, the chief editor of the news portal charter97.org Natallia Radzina thinks, that the recent conflicts between Russia and Belarus don't seem to be a simple chain of coincidences. She reminded, that Russian Federation has already reduced oil supplies to Belarus by 6-7 million tons, and that actually "knocks the crutches out from under the already barely standing Belarusian regime." "Export of oil products has already fallen by 38%. Real fall in GDP in 2016 may be not less than 5%. Belarus hasn't yet paid the debt for gas. Trucks with Belarusian and re-exported from the EU and Ukraine goods are not allowed to cross the borders," – Ms. Radzina says.
She noted, that Russia will continue to cut help for Lukashenka's regime in 2017. "Firstly, shale revolution, the collapse of oil prices, the wars in Ukraine and Syria, economic crisis and also the political crisis, which is about to happen, have forced the Russian authorities to seriously reconsider the expenditures. Secondly, huge infusions into the dictatorship in Belarus haven't justified themselves. Lukashenka and his entourage have embezzled millions of tons of freebee oil, billions of cubic meters of gas, billions of dollars of irrecoverable loans and Belarus is on the edge of default today: people have impoverished, wages have fallen down to 60-80 dollars, while inflation and unemployment hit all records," – Natallia Radzina noted.
She believes, that power in Belarus will change in 2017: "The question is, who will change Lukashenka – a similar Kremlin's puppet or a democratically elected president, who will reform the country and lead it the European path. The first option is extremely dangerous for Ukraine, because the next step may be a full-scale war against Kiev. Therefore it's high time for the Ukrainian authorities to see the prospect and to get engaged in the democratic changes going on in Belarus. Belarusian opposition, independent media and civil society need the help and solidarity of neighbors today."
Vadzim Dounar, «Apostrophe»