$500 salary, potatoes, Jerusalem artichokes: What is the future of Belarus-Russia integration?

This year, a meeting of the Supreme State Council of the Union State which usually takes place in February or March, is scheduled for the penultimate day of the spring. New talking points have definitely emerged since April’s meeting of presidents Alyaksandr Lukashenka and Vladimir Putin.

“Not everything is going smoothly. Belarus failed to get $1 bn loan which was promised to support the economy of the country so that the republic would not go bankrupt,” says Moscow-based political analyst Andrey Suzdaltsev.

Sign of relief after St. Petersburg meeting?

On Monday, Russia’s veterinary and fitosanitary agency Rosselkhoznadzor even agreed to lift restrictions against two of seven meat and dairy Belarusian enterprises, but on Tuesday the watchdog imposed a food delivery ban on another three firms. According to Belarusian political analyst Ales Lahvinets, conflict between the countries will remain, because the model of relations between the two authoritarian leaders is not transparent.

“The hot-button issues are oil and gas prices; quotas; access to the Russian market; a very peculiar interpretation of sanitary norms; participation of Belarusian companies in Russia’s state tendering,” he says.

Russia will pay for $500 average salary in Belarus?

Lukashenka is expected to keep his promise of $500 average salary per month. His political fate is linked to a great extent to a quick and successful solution of the issue. But neither his recent visit to China, nor hugs with other world leaders have not brought dividends yet. And two of the three pillars of Belarus’ export – oil, potash, meat and dairy industry – are primarily dependent on Moscow.

“The tackling of the $500 salary problem is up to Russia, its oil industry, pipelines and good will. They are able to help Lukashenka raise salaries and come off as a brilliant economist, ” Suzdaltzev said.

What can Lukashenka offer in exchange?

According to some political observers, deploying a Russian military base in Belarus may become such a bargaining chip. Andrey Illarionov, Vladimir Putin’s former economic adviser, left open the possibility of a hybrid occupation of our country immediately after the joint military exercise West-2017. But not all experts share his opinion.

“A long-term positional game is still in progress, and Lukashenka has fewer trump cards. But I do not think that Russia will go to the length of a belligerent option,” Lahvinets believes.

As for the upcoming meeting on May 30, there is every likelihood that the topic raised will be insignificant. The formation called Union State, which turned 20 years in 2017, has been criticized even by its own creators. The level of integration between the two countries is still limited to 11 programmes, including that of ‘inovative development of production of potatoes and Jerusalem artichokes’.

Belsat.eu, phot. Mikhail Metzel / TASS / Forum

See also