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Energy and political row with Belarus

On June 29 Inter RAO fully cut off electrical energy supplies to Belarus following Minsk’s failure to pay off 600m rubles in debts. The shutdown was accompanied by a scandal – a media attack on the Belarusian president was resumed on Russian television (PR moves included “unmasking” TV stories similar to those in 2010).

Meanwhile, Alexander Lukashenko prefers not to sell strategic enterprises and not to change the rules of the game in the national economy contrary to what Moscow wants. Instead, the Belarusian leader raises stakes in the game hoping that Russia will avoid a long-term and large-scale conflict and agree to pay overstated prices for Belaruskali, Beltransgaz and other assets. With a strong financial injection the political regime in Belarus will manage to survive for at least several more years.

Despite a dramatic economic situation in the country, Lukashenko has a chance to successfully implement this plan. In reality Moscow has limited possibilities to press the Belarusian leader. For many years he was portrayed as “Russia’s important military ally deterring NATO tanks that are heading to Smolensk”, “Slavic patriot countering orange revolutions” and as a “capable politician not allowing political marginals to rock the boat”. Thus, criticism of Lukashenko by Moscow and the Russian mass media (for political repressions, etc.) will look very strange for a common Russian citizen having a skeptical attitude towards street protests seeing Orange Revolution threats in them. Besides, Russian authorities fear that Lukashenko may be succeeded by a local Yushchenko-type politician.

In this regard it is worth remembering that all negative TV reports about Lukashenko broadcasted on Russian TV in 2010 suddenly stopped when the Belarusian election campaign neared its most important stage. The same story may repeat again.

By Stanislav Mitrakhovich, NESF leading expert

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