27 September 2020, Sunday, 20:41
Sim Sim, Charter 97!

Need a Scandal?

Need a Scandal?
Valer Karbalevich

Makei's interview, Lukashenka's odd behaviour and European demarche.

A part of a scandal remains in the shadows, and this is always the best part of it.

Giulio Leoni's book "La regola delle ombre"

Last week several major events in the foreign policy of Belarus took place at once, mainly of scandalous nature.

It all started with the interview of Belarusian Foreign Minister Uladzimir Makei with the RBC Russian media holding published on October 1. He reiterated the well-known position of the official Minsk about no need for a Russian military base on the Belarusian territory. The Minister stated that Belarus was against the establishment of supranational bodies of government within the so-called union state. (By the way, the current agreement of 1999 provides for such bodies.) Makei also notes that it will not be possible to quickly unify the economic legislation and economic policy, provided for by the document signed by the heads of government on September 6.

Moreover, Belarus will not adjust to the Russian laws, this process should be on equal terms. And the main thing the Belarusian minister said was that Minsk would sign the documents on integration on December 8 only if the Russian economic assistance is resumed (compensation for tax manoeuvre, acceptable gas price, etc.). That is, the bargaining just begins in spite of the previous cheerful statements of the Prime Ministers that the parties have agreed upon everything.

On the same day, the EEU summit was held in Yerevan. Lukashenka demonstrated his dissatisfaction throughout the event. He was late for official events and ignored photo op. In an interview with the Russian TV channel, Lukashenka expressed his dissatisfaction with the way this economic union functions: "Both our internal trade has decreased and foreign trade is also declining". At that, he noted that before concluding agreements between the EEU and other countries, "one should think about how to be happy within our Union, how to generate the greatest profit from trade within the Union".

The main issue for Belarus at this summit was the increase of its share by 1% in the distribution of import customs duties in the EEU. The Belarusian side officially made such claims. However, there was a failure. At the end of the summit, Belarus received an additional 0.3% of the total amount (4.86% instead of the previous 4.56%) of import customs duties. In monetary terms, it's about $40-50 million of additional revenues to the country's budget.

Lukashenka seems to have been dissatisfied. This may be the reason why the Belarusian delegation left Yerevan ahead of schedule and ignored the conference on the transit potential of the Eurasian continent, which adjourned the formal part of the summit.

And, probably, it was not accidental at all that an information appeared on October 20 that military attache of Russia in Belarus Roman Spiridonov left Minsk, having worked on his position for half a year. The fact alone wouldn’t be worth much attention, if it wasn’t for its informational coverage. Simultaneously, the Belarusian and the Russian independent media (for example, the notorious Nezygar) informed, having referred to the sidelines sources, that he had allegedly been expelled from Belarus under the suspicion of espionage.

This really looks like a deliberate leak of information under political reasons. Herein, the Belarusian MFA does not comment on the situation, that is, does not refute anything. The uncovery of a Russian spy in Belarus seems something new in the relations between the former allies, who are allegedly going to proceed to a new stage of “fraternal integration” at the official level.

But the main scandal was ambushing ahead. On October 3-4, a “top level event” was planned to be held in Minsk, aiming to coincide with the 10th anniversary of the Eastern Partnership. It was expected that European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini, Foreign Ministers of Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, and the countries-participants of the Eastern Partnership would visit the Belarusian capital on this occasion.

For the very first time in 10 years of existence of the Eastern Partnership, Belarus was to host a meeting of such high level. Our MFA was so obsessed with this idea, lobbied holding of the meeting here, advertised the event as widely as possible. For the official Minsk, such event, especially the visit of Federica Mogherini was to become a prestigious milestone, the sign of growth of the international importance of Belarus.

However, on October 3 Federica Mogherini cancelled her visit. Following her decision, foreign ministers of other countries did the same. According to non-official information, Lukashenka refused to meet with Federica Mogherini. The European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy reckoned this as disrespect and cancelled the visit.

Why did Lukashenka commit such a diplomatic demarche? We can presume it happened due to two reasons.

First, the authorizations of Federica Mogherini expire at the end of next month. Since November 1, this position will be taken by another person. And maybe Lukashenka decided it was no point to discuss something, agree on something with the politician who is about to retire, in three weeks?

Secondly, it could be because the Belarusian leadership was hoping that during Federica Mogherini’s visit the so long-waited for agreement on simplification of the visa regime and reduction of the consular fee to obtain a EU country visa for Belarusians to 35 euros will be finally signed. It was officially announced that Lukashenka took the decision to sign such document. It could be a good PR campaign before the elections. Like, see how the government cares about citizens. it appeared so though that the EU wasn;’t ready for this now, as there is a long procedure of coordination of such agreement. Most likely, it will be possible to sign it only after the New Year.

In the end, the whole year work of the Belarusian MFA went down the drain. It made a negative impression in the EU. As if it wasn’t enough that Lukashenka had declined all invitations to visit the EU countries, he refused to meet with one of the top officials of the European Union. Al;though the Belarusian MFA claims that the planned event in Minsk is not canceled but postponed till the next year, I am not sure the EU will be willing to repeat the experiment after such a scandalous incident.

Valer Karbalevich, Svobodnye Novosti