‘A bit of blackmail and pressure’. Russian media paving way for ‘deeper integration’

In a week, Alyaksandr Lukashenka will again meet with Vladimir Putin in Sochi. The leaders are expected to discuss ‘controversial’ issues in the bilateral relations. After their meeting, the working group on the integration proccess established in late December will be be making an inventory of the 1999 Union Treaty, Russian envoy Mikhail Babich told journalists on Wednesday.

“The task of the working groups on deepening integration within the Union State is comptelely keeping the Union Treaty and implementing all the issues of establishing a single economic space and monetary policy,” he said.

Interestingly, it took Minsk some time to confirm the upcoming event; the press release did not mention ‘further integration’.

In mid December, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said the Kremlin was ready to deepen integration with Belarus, including creating a common emission centre, a common court and other bodies.

“The proposal to revive the Union State has been put forward by [former PM] Myasnikovich, if I remember correctly, in 2017, when Minsk thought Moscow was scaling back payments for transit and military services provided by Belarus too quickly,” Valeryia Kastsyuhova, an editor at the expert community Our Opinion, said.

Russian media were less restrained than officials. Shortly before Babich’s statements, news portal Lenta.ru published the article Lukashenka Tired of Russia: Looking for New friends in US.

“The Ukrainian crisis has become a sort of testing the Belarusian leadership for the commitment to the union with Russia, which it failed,” Russian journalist Maxim Semenov said in the article.

In addition to theses on Lukashenka’s unreliability, Lenta.ru states that Belarus allegedly invites NATO to hold military exercises on its territory, as well as deploy US experts on monitoring over the Internet. There is no reference to any source, just a notes that a top Belarusian diplomat made such an offer ‘according to some sources’. The Russian media outlet implies that Alyaksandr Lukashenka is tired of the Russian Federation and now wants to become an ally of the United States.

“For the Belarusian president it is very important to get an ally which is opposed to Russia. It is seen as a threat to the sovereignty of the country. The United States is perfectly suited for this role, since the crisis in Russian-American relations has only deepened since 2014,” the author believes.

Such articles target both domestic audience, i.e. influencing on the public opinion before a would-be cooling of relations with Minsk, and the authorities of Belarus, Ms Kastsyuhova believes.

“A bit of blackmail, a bit of pressure. They are sending a message ‘we are not satisfied’ in order to compel the other party to make concessions,” the expert explained.

In the course of negotiating economic issues with Putin, Lukashenka has repeatedly hinted that Russia is a threat to the independence of Belarus.

“In the next two years, there will be real attempts to test us to the limit. They will try to check whether we deserve that independence we are constantly talking about,” Lukashenka warned during a New Year event in the presidential palace.

The ‘prediction’ may also be used as an argument intalking Belarusians out of protesting during the 2020 elections.