For this special video conference, Vladimir Putin did not let himself be connected from the Kremlin or his residence, but from Sevastopol of all places. So he was sitting in the annexed Crimea when he agreed a stronger cooperation with the Belarusian ruler Alexander Lukashenko and both signed an agreement on 28 points. Putin’s whereabouts are not unimportant because Lukashenko has not yet recognized Crimea as part of Russia. He had always refused this sign of support to his “brother” in the Kremlin, as he also calls Putin.
But since Lukashenko has isolated himself within Europe, he is more dependent than ever on Putin. The dictator only maintains his power in Minsk with great force, financial help from Moscow and thanks to Putin’s assurance that he will be given military support if necessary. “Together we will oppose all attempts to interfere in the internal affairs of our sovereign states,” Putin reaffirmed, “and Russia will of course continue to help the brotherly Belarusian people – there is no doubt about that.” Lukashenko had always portrayed the Belarusian protests against him as being orchestrated from outside.
During the video session, Putin also addressed the situation on the Belarusian border. It is important to create stability and security there, he said. Lukashenko himself allowed the situation on the border with Poland and Lithuania to escalate: in the past few months, he lured thousands of refugees from Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria to Belarus with the promise that they could get into the EU from there. Although Putin did not address the refugees directly, he had already sided with Lukashenko on the subject.
Monetary and financial policies are being adjusted and the tax system is being harmonized
At the meeting on Thursday, Putin was about pushing ahead with his plans for a Russian-Belarusian union state. This union state has existed on paper for more than 20 years, but only there. Lukashenko has always resisted closer political cooperation. Even now, the agreement is primarily about greater economic integration. Political issues such as a common parliament and a common currency were left out.
For Putin, it is still a small breakthrough. Monetary and financial policy should be adjusted, the tax system harmonized, a common market for oil and natural gas created, and agricultural policy standardized. In addition, the countries want to work more closely militarily, joint training and combat centers are said to have been established. So far, Lukashenko had rejected Russian military bases in Belarus.
The energy market is an important issue for Lukashenko, the Belarusian economy depends on cheap oil and gas supplies from Russia. Putin has put him under pressure earlier, now the Kremlin chief has again emphasized how much cheaper natural gas is for Belarus than for the rest of Europe. Putin will try to bind Minsk to Moscow as closely as possible and to fix this dependency for the future.
Lukashenko’s appearance at this online meeting, on the other hand, was rather strange. Putin had promised him that he would “take him to the Crimea to show me that something new was being created there,” he said. But now the Russian President has gone there alone, without him. The next day, the Russian experts wondered whether Lukashenko had now recognized that Crimea belonged to Russia or not.