The meeting of Alexander Lukashenka and Vladimir Putin in Sochi lasted over 6 hours. However, we know very little about the content of the talks. It’s already a tradition. The negotiations between Putin and Lukashenka, Minsk and Moscow are conducted in the privacy of offices and we find out about the agreements reached either many months later, or we do not find out at all.
That is why today we are doomed to the laconic message of state media, where attention is paid to lunch and skiing and scooter skiing together. The cordiality of the relationship and the informal, almost family character of the meeting are emphasized. Of course, there are no details of the agreements.
Lukashenka with a notebook in his hand
One detail draws attention in the accounts of the leaders of Belarus and Russia. Now, on his way to meet Putin, Alexander Lukashenka takes his notebook with him and during the protocol part – in the presence of the media – he writes down the statements of his Russian colleague.
We got used to similar pictures in Belarus. Only there are Belarusian officials writing down every word of Lukashenka. It is a demonstration of loyalty, the recognition of a leader as the greatest authority, whose words on every topic are so valuable that they must be recorded on paper.
Now the roles have turned. Lukashenka himself is with a notebook and a pen in his hand. Of course, this is not the case. Alexander Lukashenka, taking notes of Vladimir Putin’s words, is a show and conscious demonstration of submission and vassalism. However, relations in the East are always theater. Lukashenka’s theater was to warm relations with the West before August 9, 2020, the theater is now a demonstrative humiliation in front of Vladimir Putin. And then and now Lukashenka is about the same: financial support that will help him through difficult times.
Inefficient “Belarus System”
The “Belarus System” built by Lukashenka is inefficient and needs constant external financial support. It is precisely it that keeps loss-making state enterprises and collective farms alive.
Giving up the Soviet economic legacy and carrying out reforms is unacceptable for Lukashenka. He realizes that in such a case, the archaic authoritarian system of power he built up would quickly collapse, because a man living in a free market economy will not tolerate political pressure and authoritarian rituals.
A free man does not need an authoritarian ruler, he treats politicians as hired managers who can be replaced at any time. For Lukashenka, something similar is unacceptable. Therefore, when fighting for financial support and cheap energy resources, it is actually fighting for its political future.
In the case of Abkhazia and Ossetia, it was also about money
The core of the Belarusian-Russian conflicts in recent years has always come down to the price Russia has to pay for Minsk’s gesture or action. Establishing relations with South Ossetia and Abkhazia? No problem, but it will cost you this much. Details of the talks on this subject were revealed by Lukashenka himself, explaining why he did not recognize the independence of the rebellious Georgian provinces. Russia did not want to pay or believed that it had already paid. Lukashenka did not agree with such an approach, and the whole discussion took place around it.
Ultimately, no agreement was reached. Belarus has not recognized the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. However, there were no ideological quarrels here, there was no conflict between Belarusian independence and Russian imperialism, but pure business.
Putin and Lukashenka are very similar to each other, they are even political twins. What could ideological quarrels between them be? In addition, Alexander Lukashenka always respected the red lines drawn by the Kremlin and never even threatened to cross them. However, within these boundaries, he intended and intends to be the only full and absolute ruler in his territory.
Putin’s troops saved Lukashenka
Mass protests shook the position of Alexander Lukashenka. He managed to stay in power only thanks to the support of Vladimir Putin, who at a key time gathered Russian units from the so-called Belarusian reserve on the border with Belarus and threatened to use them if the situation got out of Lukashenka’s control. It was enough for all signs of disloyalty within the Belarusian regime to disappear immediately, and the dismissals and the transition of officials to the side of the rebellious nation ended.
The system withstood social pressure and Lukashenka managed to keep the internal situation under his control. But everything comes at a price. Lukashenka’s position has weakened significantly. This is why he felt he must now publicly show his allegiance and demonstrate his submission.
However, we should have no doubts – Lukashenka will do everything to remain the only partner for the Kremlin in Belarus. He knows that his future depends on it. The game continues.
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