25 May 2019, Saturday, 23:38
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The Failed Picnic In Mountains

PHOTO: DMITRY AZAROV/ COMMERSANT

The Belarusian-Russian summits continue to break records.

When Aliaksandr Lukashenka visited the Kremlin twice in one week before the New Year, everyone said that there had not been such an intensity of negotiations before. But now we first saw the Sochi marathon, the meeting of the leaders lasted for three days.

It is important to note that on February 8, on the eve of the meeting between Lukashenka and Putin in Sochi, the relations with Belarus were discussed at a meeting of the Security Council of the Russian Federation. It seems this haven’t happened before either. In any case, this was not publicly reported. Therefore, it can be concluded that the political weight of the Belarusian issue in Russia’s foreign policy is growing.

Presumably, the Belarusian side was the initiator of the new meeting of the leaders. This is evidenced by the fact that at the beginning of the first day of negotiations A. Lukashenka thanked V. Putin for the invitation to Sochi six (6)! times.

The negotiations are over, what's the bottom line? If the main result of the three-day summit is an agreement on cooperation in the humanitarian sphere, the conclusion is the same: the parties again failed to agree on key issues, as during the meetings in the Kremlin on December 25 and 29 last year.

But then, before the New Year, neither the presidents themselves, nor their press-centers commented on the outcome of the negotiations.

And the difference between the Sochi Summit and the previous failures is that now both sides are carefully concealing, hiding failures, blatantly demonstrating the success of cooperation, trying to build the “Potemkin villages” of integration. This was expressed not only in the fact that the presidents played hockey together after the meeting. Previously, a sign of failure was precisely the refusal of A. Lukashenka to participate in or attend sports events. Now the three-day summit was presented as a picnic in the mountains. The failure was camouflaged with external decency, various retouching of the problems in bilateral relations.

The statement by A.Lukashenka that they did not discuss the tax maneuvre came totally unexpected: “We have just said to each other that we will come out, the journalists will meet us, and I have a feeling that they will surely ask this question, as if it’s the most acute problem in the relations of Belarus and Russia. It exists, but I am telling you sincerely and openly: it seems that we haven’t said a word about it for the three days.”

Well, that's a pretty how-d'ye-do, as the Russian peasants used to say in the old times. For the past three months, all the statements of Belarusian and Russian officials, discussions in the media of the two states have focused on the topic of compensation for the tax maneuver, linked to the problem of further integration of Belarus and Russia within the framework of the Union State. Now it is one of the “damned questions” of the Belarusian-Russian relations. And on the eve of the Sochi meeting, high-ranking officials on both sides quite definitely formulated that the presidents intend to solve the very problem of tax maneuver that could not be agreed upon during the pre-New Year negotiations in the Kremlin on December 25 and 29. On February 7, Belarus Ambassador to Russia Uladzimir Siamashka even stated: “I’m almost 100% sure that the issue of tax maneuver will be resolved on February 13”.

And now A. Lukashenka insolently says, “as if this is the most acute problem in relations between Belarus and Russia,” and “it seems that we haven’t said a word about it for the three days.” This is obviously an awkward attempt to save a good face on a bad game. Why, then, did he come to Sochi? What did the presidents do for three days? Just skied and played hockey? According to A. Lukashenka, they agreed to analyze the state of the union agreements. But they agreed on this during the very first meeting in Moscow on December 25, and to solve this task they even created a joint working group (which for some reason did not start working).

It is clear that in such a simple way A. Lukashenka wanted to conceal the failure of the negotiations. Say, since the issue of compensation for tax maneuver was not on the agenda, it is impossible to speak of an unsuccessful result. But in the end everything turned out exactly the opposite. From the outside, it looks like V. Putin did not even want to discuss the question that the official Minsk is most interested in.

However, it seems to me that in fact the issue of the tax maneuver was discussed. Look at the squad of the government representatives of the two countries who participated in the negotiations. These are vice-premiers, ministers responsible for energy, economics and finance. This is exactly the squad suitable for discussing this issue. Why did these very busy people come to Sochi?

And one more. I noted a long remark of A. Lukashenka before the journalists about sovereignty, independence, with a reference to the will of the people. I had an impression that he was continuing the debate, repeating the arguments that he had used most recently during the negotiations.

For politicians, it is important to be able to lose beautifully. In this case, it turned out not so good. And here is what is surprising. A. Lukashenka and V. Putin have known each other for 20 years; they meet several times every year. During this time, they should have learned to finish each other’s sentences. Therefore, it is odd that they needed to hold three hours-long summits in order to understand a simple thing: disagreements are unresolvable, they cannot agree!

Another case pops up here. It turns out that on February 16 A. Lukashenka was to speak at the Munich Security Conference. So far, a new image of Belarus as a peacemaker and security donor has been shaped by Lukashenka’s speeches in Minsk. Now it is possible to do this at a representative international forum in Germany.

A. Lukashenka’s visit to Munich was being prepared, but canceled later. The head of the Foreign Ministry’s information department, A. Hlaz, explained it this way: “Literally at the very last moment certain temporary overlays arose. Due to the need to solve important issues of the Belarusian-Russian relations during negotiations with the President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin in Sochi, this time participation in the Munich conference at the level of the President of the Republic of Belarus was not possible. ”

What kind of important questions prevented A. Lukashenka from going to Munich? It would be understandable if during the third day of negotiations in Sochi V. Putin promised to give money. Not the case. According to official information, on February 15, Lukashenka and Putin discussed cooperation in the fields of culture, education, and sports. There are no special problems in this area between countries. These are questions of a non-presidential level. And for this, A. Lukashenka sacrificed a trip to the Munich Conference?

This story marred the image of A. Lukashenka. It turns out that having arrived in Sochi, he changed his mind to fly to Munich. What conclusion can foreign observers make of this? Only one: Putin did not let him go. Taking into account the fact that A. Lukashenka has already ignored several invitations to Europe, this episode reinforces the fairly widespread view that in foreign policy, especially in relations with the West, Belarus remains strongly dependent on Moscow.

Valer Karbalevich, Svobodnye Novosti