Russia may have hailed the very controversial victory on Sunday of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, the latter accusing the Kremlin of manipulating the opposition and multiplying the provocations. Russia is releasing it. Currently.
Arrests of “Russian mercenaries”, imprecations and threats … The formerly privileged relationship between Russia and Belarus is on its way. This is because President Alexander Lukashenko, often nicknamed “the last dictator in Europe”, was elected on Sunday, with more than 80% of the vote, spending part of his election campaign waving the red cloth of vassalization of Russia.
Faced with the emergence of the candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaïa, an English teacher in education, who knew how to mobilize the masses, Alexander Lukashenko is sure: the Kremlin and its “puppets” are conspiring with their oppressors to bring it down.
To listen to the autocrat, his government would be the last bulwark against Russia. “We will not abandon the country to you. Independence is expensive, but it is worth the cost.”
“Threatened by the rise of the opposition”
According to Alexander Lukashenko, his government is rushing to counter the alleged Russian act. In June last year, he imprisoned his opponent Viktor Babaryko, former head of a subsidiary of the Russian giant Gazprom. More impressively, in July, he arrested 33 Russians from the Wagner Group, who were presented as mercenaries to the Kremlin, who were instructed to carry out an armed coup in Minsk.
“These 33 arrests were the subject of a total instrumentalization on the part of the president who saw these people as an attempt to mix up. This allowed him to roll out his rhetoric about Russia wanting to snap at independent Belarus,” Paul Gogo explains. , France’s 24 correspondent in Russia. “During this arrest, the president already felt threatened by the growing power of the opposition. He therefore played this card.”
In early August, Russian diplomat spokeswoman Maria Zakharova seemed to draw a red line with her ally forever: if she insisted on the “solid foundation” of Russian-Belarusian friendship that could not be threatened by “one-time and cyclical interests”, she claimed also that the fate of the 33 Russians arrested for a hypothetical plot was closely followed. “We will not let anything bad happen to them,” she warned, calling “a spectacle” the charges against them for initiating an armed conspiracy with the Belarusian opposition.
A country on Russian drip
Alexander Lukashenko, multiplying diatribes with a warrior accent, thus seems ready to end his privileged relationship with Russia, despite very deep economic, military and security integration.
In fact, Russia and Belarus had until then had close ties. On paper, they even form a supranational unit within the framework of the “Union”. According to this 1999 treaty, the two countries must gradually tend towards full integration in all areas in “respect for their respective sovereignty”.
Belarus has firmly established itself under Russian influence since the collapse of the Soviet Union, unlike the diplomatic channels taken by Ukraine or Georgia. Russia represents half of the country’s foreign trade and supplies 60% of its imports, including all its gas and oil.
Vladimir Poutine and Alexander Lukashenko then seemed to have a cordial personal relationship. During a visit to the Kremlin at the end of 2018, the Belarusian president even offered his counterpart four bags of potatoes “from the presidential gardens”, even if it meant running a recurring joke in Russia according to which Belarus would only produce potatoes. , the two men appeared together at a hockey game in Sochi.
However, since the end of 2019 and the failure of talks on favorable prices for Russian hydrocarbons sold to Belarus, tensions have only increased. And Alexandre Loukachenko went crescendo in his attacks on Vladimir Putin’s Russia, accusing him of diluting the sovereignty of his country, even taking control of it, a distrust of the Russian ambitions born in 2014 with the annexation of Crimea.
Russia is releasing it
“Lukashenko has declared a point without return. Relations between the two countries have gone from fraternal and strategic to ordinary and utilitarian,” Arseni Sivitsky, director of the Center for Strategic Studies in Minsk, told AFP.
At the moment, Moscow is letting the provocations flow. Vladimir Putin was one of only two presidents to send a “congratulatory telegram” to his Belarusian counterpart after his re-election. “I expect that your actions as head of state will enable the future development of mutually beneficial Russia-Belarus relations,” the Russian president wrote.
“Moscow is watching without intervening. It is in its interest,” Paul Gogo explains. “But Vladimir Poutine prefers to keep an eye on opponents” which can be so many options.
“Several scenarios are possible but it is important to understand one thing: if things change in Belarus, it is because the Kremlin has disconnected Lukashenko. Sure, Putin congratulated Lukashenko but it was a formality: it is a divorce that is developing “, explaining Oleg Kobtzeff, a specialist in Russia at the American University of Paris, in France 24. “It remains to be seen whether the three opponents are supported by the Kremlin. Maybe yes, maybe not.”
But an analyst questioned by the world believes that Vladimir Putin would be reluctant to get rid of Lukashenko. If he did not appreciate his rents, he would prefer a known problem to something unpredictable.
“Vladimir Putin is afraid of scenarios that could turn against him,” explains Andrei Kortunov, head of the Russian Council, a Russian think tank on international affairs. “The worst case scenario is a revolution like the Maidan in Ukraine. It would be not only the loss of an ally but also a political blow: if a change of power through the streets turns out to be possible in Belarus, a brother country that the post-Soviet mentality, which would “a real threat to Vladimir Poutine, whose choice is hardly cleaner than Alexander Lukashenko’s.”