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Belarusian president to seek balance in relations with Russia, Europe - analysts

October 13, 2015, 17:33 UTC+3 Zamyatina Tamara
 Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko

© Nikolai Petrov/BelTA/TASS

MOSCOW, October 13. /TASS/. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, 61, who last Sunday emerged the winner in a fifth election in a row, will go ahead with his policy of maintaining a balance of national interests in relations with Russia, the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEA) and the European countries, polled experts have told TASS.

The presidential election in Belarus was quite predictable — a high turnout (86.75%) and the incumbent’s comfortable victory over the three other rivals with a preliminary official result of 83.49%. International observers welcomed the Belarussian election by and large. The next day after the voting the European Union made a decision to suspend sanctions against Minsk and its officials for four months.

Russian President Vladimir Putin congratulated Lukashenko upon what he described as a "convincing victory." Asked by the media at the polling station if he was able to guarantee friendly relations with Russia, Lukashenko replied the word "friendly" was not exactly the one that expressed the real nature of relations between his country and Russia. "Our peoples are relatives. Our countries are relatives. And we shall always remain so, although we may have opinions of our own."

"The key feature of Lukashenko’s stance is that he is keen to retain trading and economic preferences in doing business with Moscow, on the one hand, and to secure a favourable attitude of the European Union, first and foremost, the lifting of sanctions from Minsk and its officials, on the other," the deputy director of the CIS Studies Institute, Vladimir Zharikhin, has told TASS.

"In protecting his country’s national interests the Belarussian president seeks to preserve a balance of relations with his neighbours in the East and in the West. Those smaller European countries which had failed to keep their relations with great powers in balance have lost state sovereignty," Zharikhin said.

He believes that Lukashenko received certain political bonuses from the EU, when he agreed to set free political prisoners, host the Normandy Quartet’s talks for a settlement of the crisis in Ukraine and hold a transparent presidential election.

"But that does not mean that all problems between the European Union and Belarus are gone. The European Union is interested in Belarus for the sole reason: by luring Minsk into its web the EU will create problems for Russia. As long as it preserves relations of alliance with Russia, Belarus will be of no interest to the EU. Brussels will agree to take a more favourable attitude to Minsk only on its own terms, in other words, on the condition of Lukashenko’s full obedience. But the Belarussian leader is not that type of person," Zharikhin believes.

"The Belarusian economy’s peg to the Russian one is so tight that it has absolutely no other development options. Suffice it to say that Belarus buys Russian oil and gas at Russia’s domestic prices, and this enables Lukashenko to keep many of his social programs going. In the meantime, an estimated 60%-70% of Belarus’s export of motor vehicles, machine and equipment goes to Russia, and so does a large share of its farm produce. In the meantime the GDP per capita is 40% below that in Russia," Zharikhin said.

As for Lukashenko’s recent statement he is against the emergence of a Russian air base in the Belarussian city of Bobruisk, Zharikhin said that ostensible "sensation" was entirely the result of incompetent or provocative reporting. "Under the bilateral treaty of mutual defence between Russia and Belarus the air base in Bobruisk has long hosted Russian planes. At a certain point Moscow had the intention of entering into negotiations with Belarus on changing the status of the Bobruisk air base to entirely Russian. Some media launched the rumours Putin had already made a decision on that score. Naturally, Lukashenko’s reaction was emotional. The conflict is artificial," Zharikhin said.

The director of the Institute for Political Studies, Sergey Markov, believes that Lukashenko has his own strategy and tactics in relations with Russia and the European Union. "Strategically, Belarus is tied to Russia and Lukashenko will be doing his utmost to have Moscow’s assistance in any critical situation to the maximum extent. Tactically, Lukashenko has been trying to ease pressures from the European Union, for which he makes all sorts of gestures towards Brussels with the aim to ease his own political elite’s discontent over the EU sanctions," Markov told TASS.

"Lukashenko is perfectly aware that the European Union has its own strategy and tactics in relations with Belarus. The chief aim Brussels pursues is to tear Belarus away from Russia under the Ukrainian scenario. And the paramount task of the United States and the European Union, where Lukashenko is sometimes called ‘the last dictator in Europe’, is to oust him the way Viktor Yanukovich was removed from office in neighboring Ukraine. It is in this sort of situation that the Belarussian president will have to maintain equilibrium," Markov concluded.

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