Vladimir Putin’s embrace of Belarus fuels anger in the West
Before a historic summit with US President Joe Biden, Vladimir Putin sets a milestone in Belarus on the limits of Western encroachment on Russia.
Putin welcomes Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko on Friday for talks in Sochi, Russia, in a public embrace from an ally accused by the European Union of being state sponsored. piracy following the forced landing of a Ryanair Holdings Plc jet and arrest of dissident journalist.
As the EU weighs by increasing sanctions against the Lukashenko regime and pointing fingers at Russia for its support for the former boss of Soviet collective farms, the Kremlin sees an opportunity to tie Belarus even more closely in its orbit.
“There is a growing hypothesis in Europe and in the United States that what happened could not have been done by Belarus alone, that Russia had a role to play, ”said Oksana Antonenko, director of the consultancy firm Control Risks in London. “It may eclipse the cautiously positive attitude we have seen recently from Washington and Moscow.
The stalemate is playing out ahead of Putin’s first presidential summit with Biden in Geneva on June 16, when they are expected to discuss tensions over the Ukraine conflict, strategic armaments and cyber attacks. Russia accuses the West of seeking to undermine its security by inciting a pro-democracy “colored” revolution in Belarus that extends the influence of the EU and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, mimicking the upheavals in Georgia and Ukraine.
Putin supported Lukashenko’s brutality crackdown on protests against last year’s contested presidential elections which triggered EU, UK and US sanctions against Belarus. Russia has also agreed to provide $ 1.5 billion in loans and has oil and gas supply agreements for this year.
Yet the Kremlin has tried to reduce the financial burden of keeping the inefficient Belarusian state-dominated economy afloat. Energy subsidies which reached 19% of Belarusian gross domestic product in 2006 fell to less than 1% of GDP last year.
While Russia is the biggest investor in Belarus and its main trading partner, Lukashenko has resisted pressure from Moscow in recent years for deeper integration under a “State of the Union” deal, fearing a takeover by its bigger neighbor.
In power since 1994, Lukashenko has in the past been adept at playing against the EU and Russia to maintain its independence.
But its May 23 The intervention against Ryanair’s flight between Greece and Lithuania has infuriated the EU and leaves it little room for maneuver after Belarusian security services took journalist Raman Pratasevich and his Russian girlfriend off the jet and into detention. They face until 15 years in prison for inciting mass unrest.
How Belarus targets critics in the streets and skies: QuickTake
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said on Thursday that the EU was ready for “a long, long spiral of sanctions” after banning the Belarusian national airline from its airspace and urging European carriers to avoid to fly over Belarus.
The Belarusian potash industry, a key source of foreign exchange, could be a target.
Belarus is counting on Russian support in the face of growing pressure from the West, Prime Minister Roman Golovchenko told his Russian counterpart Mikhail Mishustin on Thursday during talks in Minsk.
“Lukashenko’s ability to face Russia against other countries is now reduced to the bone,” which is positive for Moscow, said Andrey Kortunov, head of the Kremlin-founded Russian Council for International Affairs. “But he will come to Russia more often to ask for money.”
Sanctions against Belarus “will have some impact” on Russia also because of ties between companies from the two countries, said Ryhor Astapenia, director of the Belarus Initiative at Chatham House, a London-based think tank.
Putin is stuck with Lukashenko because “the Kremlin has no reliable alternatives,” according to Artyom Shraibman, a non-resident researcher based in Minsk at the Carnegie Center in Moscow.
“Russia might be interested in seeing Lukashenko gradually relinquish power,” Shraibman said. “But what he can do to achieve it is not obvious.”
– With the help of Iain Rogers, Ilya Arkhipov, Irina Reznik, Olga Tanas and Gina Turner