The regime is sinking like a rusty tanker.
Lukashenka, who chaired the CIS Council of Heads of State on October 15, 2021, was diligently demonstrating that everything in Belarus was normal, stable and legal. However, both the dictator and his words looked somehow virtual and not very serious against the backdrop of the online summit, writes Russian political analyst Andrey Suzdaltsev on politoboz.com.
A New Wave
The problem, of course, is not that the CIS leaders refused to visit the "toxic" Belarusian leader. There are authoritarian leaders of the same level as Lukashenka among the participants of the summit. The reference to the fourth wave of the coronavirus looks more reasonable. Each new wave of COVID-19 proves to be more dangerous. Nevertheless, various conspiracy theories on the use of the epidemic for political purposes by the President of Russia are now widespread among the expert community. Of course, the pandemic is not only a medical, economic but also a political factor but not to that extent...
The Belarusian authorities have drawn some conclusions from the previous waves of COVID-19 and now routinely promote their activities in the fight against the epidemic. However, the already made mistakes in the anti-COVID policy in 2020-2021 on the background of the general rejection of Lukashenka's regime are not able to regain the trust of the Belarusian population to their government.
Furthermore, the Belarusian society is well informed about the true state of affairs in hospitals and polyclinics. Moreover, it would be a dangerous mistake to ignore that COVID-19 is gradually returning to its "legitimate" and "reclaimed" place as a trigger of negative political processes for the authorities in the domestic Belarusian political field a year ago. In 2020, it resulted in a protest voting. However, there are other problems that we have discussed for months. They not only persistently fail to take a back seat but seek aggravation.
Allied Letter of Credit
As usual, Lukashenka is short of money. The first Belarusian president has created a truly classical authoritarian regime, which, like totalitarian regimes, can only survive through external expansion or aid. Lukashenka's Belarus survived for a quarter of a century on Russia's financial and resource support. Everybody is used to the fact that Lukashenka is constantly facing a financial deficit. It is only possible to solve this problem through personal contact with the president of Russia. But it sometimes fails.
Let us pay attention to Lukashenka's evident discontent during the face-to-face (!) Russian-Belarusian summit of September 9, 2021. During it, the Russian side declared its readiness to credit Belarus until December 2022 in the amount of not more than USD 630 million, which is extremely insufficient for the survival of the Lukashenka regime. Prime Minister of Belarus Roman Golovchenko counted US$ 4.5 billion as "compensation" for the "holey" Western sanctions imposed on the Republic of Belarus. Remember, Minsk believes that Russia should pay "compensation" for the sanctions against Belarus. However, it is not very clear, as Moscow neither rigged the elections, nor terrorized the Belarusian people, nor forced landing of a passenger plane, etc.
Apart from the strange "compensations" and Lukashenka's claim for the saved part of the Russian loan for the construction of the Belarusian nuclear power plant... there are some other financial problems closely tied to the promotion of the Russian-Belarusian integration. Some sums of money appear that are hard to reach.
It is impossible to solve online the problems that Lukashenka's regime is facing now. Meanwhile, the Supreme State Council of the "union state" of Russia and Belarus scheduled for November 4, 2021, may also be held on Skype. For Minsk, it will mean that no money will appear before the final approval of the twenty-eight union programs.
Meanwhile, the lack of adequate funding is affecting all sectors and spheres of activity of the Belarusian state. As a result, the Republic of Belarus finds itself in an increasingly shrinking corridor of a series of political and economic problems that are intertwined and block the way out of the political crisis of 2020. It is impossible to "unravel" one problem without confusing the parallel process. One can only solve the republic's problems comprehensively, but it requires money...
The ship of state cannot move endlessly by inertia, like the rusty tanker from the movie Waterworld. The crew doesn't want to take up the oars. Is anyone waiting for anything? Hence the core question: with whom are the Belarusian nomenclature and power structures?
In August 2020, the main part of the Belarusian nomenclature and law enforcement agencies were concerned about preserving Lukashenka's political regime. Then, they had no illusions that the revolution that had begun would sweep away the main repressive part of the Belarusian power structures, and the nomenclature, which until that day had treated Minsk and regional centres as an occupied territory, would lose their cushy jobs.
But a year has passed. We can say now that the nomenclature is split. Its ability to manage economic and social processes in the republic is undermined. It is disoriented and does not know what to expect. On the one hand, the Belarusian apparatus does not expect anything good from the opposition and the Resistance. On the other hand, Lukashenka has no prospects. Let's distract ourselves from assessing the current stage of decay of the Lukashenka regime.
Lukashenka's status remains unclear. It appears in the international arena, where, apart from Russia and China, the dictator remains a pariah to the outside world. Indeed, given Beijing's very passive stance on the Belarusian political crisis, Lukashenka's only "intercessor" is the Kremlin. For the last year, Minsk has failed to reach at least minimal compromises with the European Union despite all diligence of the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Belarus V. Makei.
Lukashenka and the whole Republic of Belarus remain a blocked territory. The sanctions both "put some pressure" on the Belarusian economy and almost completely block foreign investments. So, there is no money here either...
Anyway, the main thing for the Belarusian nomenclature is that Lukashenka is unable to govern the country. The rulers need money to regulate the processes, stimulate the required trends, solve social problems, improve the investment climate, launch ambitious projects, create innovative programmes and modernize the economy. There is no money.
Let's look at how Lukashenka has been "managing" socio-economic processes in Belarus since early October. Lukashenka:
- actively "fought" against another food shortage by a prosecutor, i.e. prosecutor's supervision became the most important economic stimulus (although this has always been the case in Belarus);
- he was sparing no effort to fight price growth by strengthening price control;
- fought for the quality of bakery products - "picked them up from the ground and ate together with the dog". Let us remind you that students and schoolchildren will now be responsible for gardening and vegetables in Belarus. Most likely, Belarus will soon revive the visits of intellectuals to collect potatoes and other crops. Such methods, when everybody works for each other in a "chain", insuring and supervising each other, we know from the Soviet times. The outcome is well known. One can say Belarus, under the leadership of the irremovable leader, is firmly and persistently marching towards the "bright" past. Given it, the Belarusian leader has to claim, almost daily, that he is a legitimately elected president. Whereby, he only raises more and more questions about the results of the last year's presidential election. It is a vicious circle.
Meanwhile, the republic's economy is on a knife edge.
Poisoned by Gas
The opportunistic post-covid growth of Belarusian exports reassures and even pleases the Belarusian authorities, but it makes the population nervous about inflation. Traditionally, Russia was blamed for inflation, which is not surprising (the dollar exchange rate is falling in Russia). Lukashenka and his junta cannot offer the country a real economic programme. It has a set of plans with directive indicators of future "growth" - the "fairy tales" of Prime Minister R. Golovchenko. The trouble is that no one believes in these economic "fairy tales". On the contrary, there's a comprehension that given the level of prices for energy carriers developing before our eyes in Europe, Belarusian industry and agriculture may vanish in a couple of weeks. And forever.
It is not the prices for gas futures on the European trading floors (1200-1300 USD per thousand cu. m) that can be a sign of an impending energy collapse but the price for Russian gas supplied in October of the current year to Moldova - 790 USD per thousand cu. m, i.e. 6 times higher than the gas price for Belarus promised by V. Putin on 9 September 2021. (With such a price difference, gas supply to Belarus can be considered free of charge). The radically low price of gas for Belarus is linked to the promotion of Russian-Belarusian economic integration. Russia will not give gas to Lukashenka's pseudo ally, who again attempts to Ukraine-2. But Lukashenka has no money for gas at the Moldovan price...
It is noteworthy the energy complex of the Republic of Belarus, whose bosses have made reassuring statements about the launch of negotiations with Gazprom to prepare a contract for the supply of gas in 2022. Minsk is increasingly worried and hopeful that it will be able to secure the price for Russian natural gas promised by Putin before the process of "harmonisation" of union programmes.
Conclusion: Lukashenka has finally destroyed the Belarusian post-Soviet economy, which can be considered a unique result of his active work. Having received $137 billion in financial and resource support from Russia over the past 20 years, he had to try very hard not to launch a single modern production facility of the 21st century, not to restructure the economy, not to carry out economic reforms, but only to build a paper mill, a Chinese car assembly line and cement factories using the last century technology. If the country never enters the post-industrial era but remains stuck in the industrial stage, de-industrialisation is bound to throw it back into the era of steam and crafts.
Once again, if Lukashenka tries to change the rules of the game of economic integration with Russia under the current critical conditions of the energy crisis, it will be a disaster, no matter how much Lukashenka cries about Russia "poisoning the sovereignty of Belarus with gas".