09/13/2021, 10.33
RUSSIA - BELARUS
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Putin and Lukašenko ready to launch new Russian-Belarusian union

by Vladimir Rozanskij

Moscow sets condition of an end to the political and social crisis that has hit Minsk over the past year. The aim is a common gas market and fiscal harmonization. Belarusians will fall further into debt with the Kremlin. Migration crisis: Russian leader distances himself from Lukašenko.

 

 

Moscow (AsiaNews) - Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukašenko and his "big brother" Vladimir Putin are ready to launch the long-awaited union between Russia and Belarus. The scheme is imposed by the Kremlin on the Belarusian leader to try to put an end to the political and social crisis that has hit Minsk over the past year. In the summer of 2020, street protests broke out in Belarus against Lukashenko's "rigged" re-election.

A buffer country between Russia and Western Europe, close to the Baltic States, Belarus has turned into one of the most odious "rogue states", led by an elderly dictator who has ferociously persecuted all his opponents. In recent days there has also been the sentencing to 11 years in prison of one of the most beloved figures of the Belarusian public square: the flutist Maria Kolesnikova, who preferred detention to exile.

After the September 9 meeting between Putin and Lukashenko, the signing of the agreement on "29 union programs" was announced. As the Belarusian batka (father-master) stated, "we started this process three years ago, when everyone was criticizing us. I think we will close everything on November 4, during the National Unity Day in Moscow."

Lukašenko believes that this will be a real leap forward for his country. Previous negotiations in 2019, before the pandemic and the protests, had ended in nothing. They spoke then of "union," of clear Soviet evocation, while today's official terms are those of "deepening integration." Lukašenko then backed out at the last moment, as he had often done in previous years, preventing the proclamation of the union already scheduled for December of that year.

The agreements will affect two crucial topics: the formation of a single gas and fuel market, and the harmonization of tax legislation. Belarus has always purchased Russian oil and fuels at a low price, without export taxes, importing about 23 million tons of fuels each year. Of these, only 6 million were intended for domestic needs, while all the rest was destined for the international market. Since 2019, the situation has changed, with the Russian government's "oil maneuver" to favor domestic producers, which cancels the privileges for Belarus.

Minsk lost 10-11 billion dollars in revenue in this way, then ended up in the abyss of the pandemic and Western sanctions. What is now awaited above all is the approval of a single tax system with Russia, to facilitate the purchase of oil and gas, adopting the same tariffs as the western Russian regions of Smolensk and Pskov.

Putin did not fully meet Belarusian expectations, setting the price of gas for 2021 at 8,500 per 1,000 cubic meters, twice as much as the Smolensk region (to European users the price is set at 0,000). In the negotiations both sides tried to come to an agreement, which will be decisive for the signing of the "29 points of integration", of which in fact the energy one is the only one that really matters.

At the end of 2022, as Putin explained, Minsk's debt to Moscow will amount to 630 million dollars. Lukašenko explained that "we will repay the debt by investing the money well, for example in nuclear power plants". Negotiations will however lead to major changes, one of which could be the exit from the scene of Lukašenko himself, but without arriving at the full union of the two states, which would not be supported by Russian and Belarusian public opinion.

Putin then dumped all responsibility for the migration crisis  on his "younger brother", which leads many Afghan, Iraqi and other refugees to pour from Belarus into neighboring European countries. As the Russian leader commented: "Everyone wants to talk to the Taliban, so go and talk to them. For the Polish and Lithuanian borders they have to talk to Lukašenko, it is not our problem". Not exactly a great example of fraternal solidarity between big Russians and white Russians.

 

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