Elections in Belarus: Um…

Belarus also held parliamentary “elections” this weekend.

Going into the elections, supporters of President Lukashenko and his government held all 110 seats in the country’s House of Representatives: there was no parliamentary opposition.

As of 9:00 this morning, it was clear that government supporters had won… all 110 seats in the House of Representatives. There will be, again, no parliamentary opposition. Continue reading

Putin’s Price

Without support from Russia, Belarus’ authoritarian leader, Alexander Lukashenko, would have a much more difficult time staying in power. A substantial share of recent economic growth in Belarus has come from the difference between the below-market prices it pays for oil and natural gas from Russia and the world-market prices it receives for refined products and for oil and gas transported to Western markets. But now the bill for Putin’s backing is starting to come due.

According to reports in the Russian newspaper Kommersant, Russia is demanding a share of the revenue that Belarus receives for the gasoline it exports; this gasoline is refined from Russian oil that is imported at subsidized rates. The Russian demand is estimated at roughly EUR 900 million, a not insignificant sum for a poor-ish country like Belarus. Furthermore, Gazprom, Russia’s state-owned natural gas monopoly, is tripling what it charges Belarus for gas beginning in 2007. Gazprom also wants control over the Belarusian company that transports gas through the country to Western Europe. Negotiations on these last two items are set to start in early May, but it’s hard to see what cards Belarus holds. Lukashenko will pay the price for Russian support.

Steinmeier on Belarus

Well, following up the last post on Belarus, it seems that German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has mirrored what went on in that Patterson School command post exercise to an eerie degree. In the simulation, apparently, Gerhard Schröder made a fool of himself by lining up with the Russians…and, strange to tell, Steinmeier has done so too, at least in the eyes of Transitions Online’s Belarusoblogger.

Seems he’s arguing for a “measured” approach and more “dialogue” with the Belarus government – or to put it another way, doing nothing. Is it “the natural gas, stupid”? Perhaps. One of the delivery pipelines from Russia to Germany (the Yuma pipeline) passes through Belarus, but German policy seems to be more about bypassing the Central Europeans, and surely (as I blogged regarding the Ukrainian gas crisis) it would be in the EU’s interest to limit the degree to which Russia can disaggregate the customer states.

Deeper than that, I think it’s fair to say that Germany – or to be more accurate, the German foreign policy establishment – has an enduring preference for Moscow. As far back as Willy Brandt, in fact. The Treaty of Moscow in 1970 preceded the Treaty of Warsaw and the Grundlagenvertrag with East Germany, and extensive partnership agreements were signed with Gorbachev as a preliminary (indeed a quid pro quo) to the reunification. Timothy Garton Ash, I think, remarked that “this Germany and all previous Germanies have a special interest in good relations with Moscow”.

This was obviously true regarding Deutschlandpolitik and reunification–the Ostpolitik was a prerequisite of the Deutschlandpolitik. But is it still true now? Clearly the degree of hostility between Germany and Russia is much less, which is all good, but the degree of interdependence is much greater. And the conflicts of interest are hardly less.

One thing the German policy establishment did well in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s was to synchronise their own policy with that of the EU. It would seem that a tension is emerging.

Belarusobloggin’

Want to know what’s happening in the Belarus civil war? Belarus Today‘s yer blog. Except, of course, it’s not. As it says at the bottom of the page:

This website is part of a foreign policy simulation. The events depicted are not actually taking place.

Thank God for that. After all, by the end of the Norman Patterson School of International Affairs’s scenario simulation, the NATO Secretary General had suffered a heart attack, Gerhard Schröder had made a fool of himself, Minsk was in flames and USAF and Italian aircraft were heading for their targets..

It sounds fun. Just a pity that the transcript isn’t on the web.

Update: (From Edward, apologies in advance to Alex for butting-in like this, but there didn’t seem to be enough for a separate post here). Events still seem to be tense in Belarus with Lukashenko opponents attempting to gain ‘orange-like’ traction, and EU observers keeping up the pressure. Also it may be worth pointing out that Belarus is another one of those incredible shrinking countries, and I’ve just posted a little data about this on Demography Matters, so either way – with or without Lukashenko – the future looks extraordinarily bleak for these long-suffering people (remember they were also hit by Chernobyl).

Update the second: The Patterson School’s website is here.

The Fire Not Quite This Time

On Sunday, the people of Belarus will vote to elect their new president, who will be the same as their old president, Alexander Lukashenko. The incumbent will win about three-quarters of the vote because, I’ve been reading, that is the share that he wants to receive. Which only shows that he is a slightly more sophisticated autocrat than his many late and unlamented predecessors in Eastern and Central Europe. (Or Western, for that matter.)
Continue reading