Lukashenka in the Russian Hands worst nightmare of the Belarusian regime is a serious confrontation both with Russia and the West at the same time if both agreed to change Lukashenka. Of course, this scenario is hard to imagine but it is equally impossible to imagine such change without coordination between these stakeholders. The internal opposition is nearly crushed in Belarus but public dissatisfaction with the Lukashenka rule is widespread in Belarusian society as never before. The game is between Lukashenka, Russia and the West, with organized opposition as a minor player, often used as a whipping boy.

The Friday news came as a threat to Minsk that its nightmare can materialize. Russia, together with IMF, is willing to help Belarus struggling Belarus economy. But only if Belarusian government will continue reforms, said Russian finance minister Alexei Kudrin on Friday at the forum on US-Russian relations in Washington.

Kudrin’s statement demonstrated that Lukashenka cannot count on absolute support of Moscow and perhaps no one at all. Much worse, Moscow recently showed that it can reach some arrangement with the West even on such international ‘hot case’ as Libya. As Russia and China left Qaddafi without their protection, Belarusian state media were outraged that the Chinese and Russians ignored the fate of their long-standing partner. Though there are few reasons to compare Lukashenka’s rule with the rule of Qaddafi, it became clear that Lukashenka could not rely on his foreign allies anymore.

At the moment, the Russian government – more firmly than ever – is holding the Belarusian regime in its hands. It deprived Belarus of its long-time lucrative business of reprocessing cheap Russian crude oil with further selling refined oil products in the West. Taking away this source of profit from Lukashenka, Moscow ruined the whole political economy of Belarusian regime. How important it is, shows admission by Belarusian economist Georgi Gryts. According to him, about half of all Belarus export is formed by just three articles – oil, potash and black metals.

In accordance with the new arrangements on oil, Belarusians are prevented from earning big money on refining and reselling Russian oil because a significant share of the profits now go into the Russian pockets. After Russia introduced these arrangements, the question of economic crisis for Belarusian regime became only a matter of time. The hard currency reserves of Belarusian National Bank diminished month by month. The panic finally gripped the the Belarusian population watching such developments and expecting new devaluation of the national currency.

Losing its economic foundation, the Belarusian government could only turn to Russia for new loans. The West was not an option following post-election accusations against some Western countries by the Belarus propaganda and arrogant political line taken by the Foreign Ministry of Belarus supporting Qaddafi.

When in mid-March Russian prime minister Putin visited Minsk, the most important issue was new loans to Belarus. It seemed settled that Lukashenka would get ca. USD 13 billion: 6 billion for a nuclear power plant, 2 billion from Anti-crisis Fund of Eurasian Economic Union (EurAzES), one billion dollars as a credit from Russian government and USD 4.3 billion in the form of oil subsidies.

Yet something went badly wrong for Minsk and now Lukashenka is pressured for reforms and threatened to be deprived of the promised money. The situation can hardly be worse. The nation is shocked by the brutal crackdown which followed the presidential elections on 19 December and the terrorist attack of 11 April. People are hunting for dollars and euros and buy up as many food and commodity products and cars as they can, quite reasonably expecting them to get much more expensive.

The measures taken by the Belarus government actions so far proved to be futile. It is no wonder, that the Belarusian leader once again recently compared Belarus to a besieged fortress penetrated by enemies:

    Even before the presidential elections we expected them to pressure us, purposefully and methodically destabilize the situation. It came true – first on the foreign currency market, then on food market, and after that an explosion happened in the underground. A long single chain.

Lukashenka continued to denounce those “who do not like our [public] stability and tranquillity”. In another statement he instructed investigators to interrogate opposition activists who expressed their views on the terrorist attack.

Such conspiracy thinking, however, shows the desperation and inability to seek rational solutions. After all, the current problem that Belarus produces less than it consumes cannot be overcome by a public hate campaign. The only solution is to implement serious reforms and modernize Belarusian economy in order to make it produce more. For that end, the foreign money is indispensable, and given the circumstances of rather a irrational confrontation with the West, large amounts of such money can come only from Russia.
Belarus Digest