Lukashenka Plays the Ace Up His Sleeve
Two days ago, on the sideline of an OSCE meeting in Kazakhstan, Belarusian Foreign Minister Sergei Martynov met with U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton to announce that Belarus intends to get rid of all of its remaining highly enriched uranium (HEU) which just a few months ago seemed so unlikely.
The terms of the deal are not completely clear, but it was noted in the joint communiqué that the “The United States intends to provide technical and financial assistance to support the completion of this effort as expeditiously as possible.”
It is not exactly clear why the Belarusian administration has decided to take this opportunity to utilize one its last few negotiating chips, but it could likely be in order to gain favor with the West prior to the December elections. As Digest readers know, Lukashenka has had a falling out – to say the least – with its one-time benefactor Russia. In all likelihood, Lukashenko has decided to follow Kenny Roger’s advice and play the ace up his sleeve as Belarus Digest already discussed.
However, the Belarusian leader should not count on this buying him anything more than an invitation to the 2012 Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul, South Korea, which he has already received, and certainly not anything along the lines of what he likely has in mind – acquiescence from the West when the upcoming election turns out to be less than free and fair. In the spirit of not counting my money while I’m still at the table, I won’t go quite as far as the The Economist and declare the election over because crazier things have happened, but I would also not recommend the reader to hold his or her breath.
by Andrew Riedy, contributing writer
Russia, NATO and Belarus: Real Money and Unreal Threats
For Belarus, an agreement between Russia and NATO will once again underline the problem of being outside this process of pan-European integration. Belarus can not continue to be a black hole between Russia and Western Europe. The Belarusian government can’t afford to play on the contradictions between them and can’t rely on the support of only one of these subjects any more.
The confrontation between Russia and NATO after the collapse of the Soviet Union has always been a political chess game, in fact, somewhat devoid of real motivation. It is obvious that the possibility of a real armed conflict between modern Russia and Western Europe is entirely unrealistic. The tough talk on the regulation of armaments and the stationing of troops has always sounded unnatural.
The real agenda of these talks has always been the desire of both parties (especially Russia) to save face in the course of reformatting relations on the continent after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Treaty Organization. The rapid expansion of NATO, which until recently was openly seen as an enemy, was immediately seen as a defeat for the Russian leadership. Former Soviet satellites (and even former republics of the USSR) joining NATO meant their escape from Russia’s sphere of influence – or at seemed so. All this harmed the domestic image of the Russian government and embittered the post-imperial sentiment of public opinion in the country.
At some point in the early 1990s the West seems to have missed the right moment to invite Russia become member of the alliance and to start building up the European security system involving all affected parties. Therefore the process had required some time to ripen, which eventually took more than one and a half decades.
The phantom possibility of war with the NATO has all these years been a dubious argument in the internal politics of Russia.
Certain conservative political forces have been the most active to emphasize this threat: hard core Soviet hawks in think tanks close to the government, the military lobby of the Soviet-era generals. In addition, the Russian public opinion has been walking away from Soviet stereotypes quite slowly, while mastering the market economy and Western standards of consumption. It seems, though, that in a way there has been a somewhat symmetric situation in the U.S., with a Cold-War-mindset dominating a large part of the policy making.
The progress in relations between Russia and the NATO has only become possible after an overall political and economic stabilization in Russia, as well as a change of generations. There is reason to believe that these things have more or less been achieved now. The recent economic crisis, in turn, has stimulated Russia to compromise and calmed down the conservative revenge pathos among Russian political circles.
In the security sphere, Russia and the West have quite obvious common interests, that are far more real and serious than any differences and political games.
The fight against terrorism, maintaining stability in Central Asia requires the active cooperation and it is good that Russia and NATO have finally come to this.
In this context, the recent demonstrative refusal of the Belarusian authorities to sign the agreement on the joint Russian-Belarusian regional military group looks naive and helpless.
For Russia, the military block with Belarus is of very small value in terms of guaranteeing real security. Moreover, by sponsoring Belarus’ military, Russia has to spend real money in order to be protected from an extremely unrealistic threat. With declarations of readiness to protect Russia from NATO’s tanks with their bodies, the foreign political rhetoric of the current Belarusian government in this regard is irrelevant.
Belarus needs to change its relations with the West and with Russia. Ahead of the presidential election coming up in December it is now the best time to once again think about this.