Belarusian president sets his sights on the Kremlin
President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus is no longer hurling accusations at Moscow. Judging by political developments in Belarus and Russia, Lukashenko’s submission is deceptive. There is every indication that Lukashenko has seriously decided to shift his political ambitions from Minsk to Moscow.
President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus is no longer hurling accusations at Moscow. After losing the oil-and-gas war in early January, he is now asking Russia for a loan – a mere $1.5 billion to bolster the Belarusian budget, which is looking thinner due to the rise in energy prices. However, judging by political developments in Belarus and Russia, Lukashenko’s submission is deceptive. There is every indication that Lukashenko has seriously decided to shift his political ambitions from Minsk to Moscow.
“You’ll be electing a parliament, you’ll be electing a president. Let’s make both the presidential and parliamentary elections open and fair, using understandable principles.” Lukashenko made these comments about Russia in an interview with Reuters on February 2, and they look very much like interference in the affairs of another state. There has been no official reaction from Moscow.
A number of Russian political figures – mostly has-beens – have already come forward to assist Lukashenko in his bid for leadership in Moscow. Dmitri Rogozin, who faded after the unsuccessful Russian March in November, rushed to hold talks in Minsk about establishing a “Slavic Trade Union” – proposing to unite guest workers from Ukraine and Belarus in Russia.
Meanwhile, Lukashenko’s supporters in Russia are moving rapidly to develop a Lukashenko 2008 movement, aiming to get him into the election race. No, there aren’t any plans to call a new presidential election in Belarus; this is all about the Russian presidency. That’s exactly what the movement’s statement says: “Our candidate for president of the Russian Federation in 2008 is Alexander Grigorievich Lukashenko.”
The Lukashenko 2008 movement claims that Lukashenko himself knows nothing at all about the movement. Allegations of his complete ignorance should be attributed to caution rather than modesty – since the movement has been founded by Kanurin, another Russian March organizer. Electoral laws say that presidential candidates must be Russian citizens who have lived in Russia for at least a decade; but Kanurin openly states that this rule is nonsense – it can be changed. Other supporters of Lukashenko include the Movement Against Illegal Immigration (DPNI), Fifth Empire ideologue Alexander Prokhanov, and economist Mikhail Delyagin (who has declared himself to be a Belarusian). Such altruistic people, all of them!
A serious bid for power with cohorts like these would seem to be problematic, not to mention embarrassing. And for all his extravagant actions, Lukashenko has never been accused of lacking common sense. But Kanurin explains his mission as follows: “Our objective is to create a situation in which everyone – including Lukashenko – will have a choice.” In other words, the objective is to demonstrate that if Lukashenko should want to exchange one presidency for another, it would be possible, in principle – or at least, that he has the moral right to do so.
Lukashenko has always been fascinated by the transfer-of-power process in Russia. For some inexplicable reason, he believes that his own career still hasn’t reached its greatest height (the Kremlin). His faith in the Russia-Belarus Union State peaked in 1999, when it was clear that Boris Yeltsin was on his way out, but not yet clear who would replace him. In all the years since then, Minsk has essentially engaged in gaining back what Lukashenko promised Russia at that time.
It’s no coincidence that the Lukashenko 2008 movement emerged only days before Belarus requested a loan from Russia. The political subtext of this loan (and the promise of large-scale privatization in Belarus) is also quite obvious. Lukashenko’s message: all right, I’ve learned my lesson, I’m prepared to play by the new rules and be friends with Russia on a free-market basis only (preferably interest-free).
For Moscow, there are advantages and disadvantages in either option: approving or denying the loan. In principle, a creditor state could set some additional conditions to go with the money. But Lukashenko is an undisciplined borrower, to put it mildly, who regards conditions as conditional.
Lukashenko stands to benefit, regardless of Moscow’s decision. If it approves the loan, the Belarusian budget will breathe a little more freely. If it denies the loan, there will be a new pretext for criticizing Russia’s leaders – those envious people who seek to prevent “the world’s most stable state” from developing. And wouldn’t that make an impressive start for an election campaign?
In a recent interview with Alexander Prokhanov, Lukashenko said: “I’m not separating myself from Russia yet – I haven’t slammed the door completely.”
Kanurin the Russian March organizer explained that Lukashenko is telling the truth: rather than separating himself from Russia, he might even become our leader.