″ The logic of the union of dictators ″. Who benefits from the integration of Russia and Belarus | Russia and Russians: A View from Europe | DW

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On Friday, September 10, the day after the meeting of Alexander Lukashenko and Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin, the prime ministers of Russia and Belarus approved 28 programs for the integration of the two states. The President of the Russian Federation called the agreements “a serious step towards the creation of a single economic space.” There is no talk of political unification yet. Putin also assured Lukashenko that by the end of 2022 Belarus will receive loans in the amount of $ 630 million and keep gas prices low.

The gain for Lukashenka is obvious – loans and gas discounts. But it is important for Putin to preserve the spiritual bond of his regime, experts say.

Harmonization in the economy without political integration

The content of 28 so-called “road maps” for the integration of Russia and Belarus was kept secret until September 10. Over the course of several months, the press has expressed expectations up to the complete absorption of Belarus by Russia. At a press conference after talks with Putin in the Kremlin, Lukashenko admitted that the heads of the two countries “did not really indulge” journalists with the details of their negotiations on integration.

In the first place among 28 programs is the convergence of the macroeconomic policies of the two states. The statement of the prime ministers of the Russian Federation and the Republic of Belarus indicates that this, for example, implies joint support for small and medium-sized businesses. In addition, the countries agreed to provide each other with equal access to public procurement. Another program guarantees uniform competition rules.

The roadmaps mention the word “harmonization” 22 times. Thus, the parties to the agreements promise each other the harmonization of monetary policy, foreign exchange regulation, customs regulation and consumer protection requirements. “Each of the programs is already a concrete plan of measures, according to which we will move,” Lukashenka said. “The governments have done a tremendous job.”

There will be no political integration of Russia and Belarus in the near future. “We proceed from the premise that, despite all the nobility of this goal, we must first create – political integration, an economic basis, an economic basis, a foundation in order to move on, including on the political track,” Vladimir Putin. Political integration, he said, was not even discussed.

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Lukashenka is not expected to fulfill agreements

Economist Sergei Zhavoronkov is sure that Lukashenka is unlikely to fulfill the agreements. “It is said, for example, that Russia will get access to state purchases in Belarus. That is, full equality of business of the two countries is assumed,” says an employee of the Gaidar Institute for Economic Policy.

Sergey Zhavoronkov

Zhavoronkov recalls how Konstantin Babkin, the owner of the Russian company Rostselmash, complained that he could not sell a single combine or tractor in Belarus. “Not because it is prohibited by law, but because all Belarusian state-owned agricultural enterprises were instructed to buy only Belarusian machinery,” Zhavoronkov explains.

The so-called harmonization of tax and customs legislation also looks dubious, the expert said. “Lukashenka has been harmonizing for 25 years, but the customs hole in Belarus does not disappear anywhere,” notes Zhavoronkov. “Since August, Russia has introduced export duties on non-ferrous metals. Did Belarus do the same? Of course not.”

What is Putin’s benefit?

“It is extremely important for Putin to present a gift to his voters for the elections,” political scientist Dmitry Oreshkin believes. “And our voters love geopolitical gifts.” According to him, three spikes in Vladimir Putin’s popularity are associated with the wars – in Chechnya, Georgia and Ukraine. “No war is planned against Lukashenka, but a peaceful takeover is planned, or, more precisely, the creation of the illusion of a slow takeover,” Oreshkin says.

Russian political scientist Dmitry Oreshkin

Dmitry Oreshkin

The political scientist is sure that the Russian president cannot but give his Belarusian colleague money. “The collapse of Lukashenko’s regime will be a catastrophe for Putin, at least from the point of view of the same voters. Therefore, he is doomed to feed him,” Oreshkin believes. At the same time, Lukashenka is not going to take any serious steps that would limit his own power on the territory of Belarus.

Economist Sergei Zhavoronkov is in solidarity with Oreshkin that the collapse of the alliance between Russia and Belarus would deal a colossal blow to Putin’s image within Russia. The fact is, Zhavoronkov explains, that this union is “one of the spiritual bonds of the regime.” But there is also a second reason why the breakdown of the agreements gets away with Lukashenka and he can count on Russia’s help.

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“This is the logic of the trade union of dictators,” says Zhavoronkov. “The more dictators there are in the world, the later attention will be paid to Putin.” According to him, it is beneficial for Putin that Lukashenka now appears in “a completely wild and frightening form.” “Former US Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul said a couple of months ago that Putin appears to be an almost civilized ruler against the background of Lukashenko,” the economist recalls. “This is exactly the effect that Putin wants to achieve.”

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