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665 words - September 11, 2013 | © DiploNews, all rights reserved.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko met with the Secretary General of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) Nikolai Bordyuzha on 9 September in Minsk. They discussed the upcoming session of the CSTO Collective Security Council that will take place in Sochi – the Russian city which is to welcome the 2014 Winter Olympics – on September 23 and the Belarusian-Russian strategic exercise Zapad 2013 (West 2013) that will take place virtually in the same period. The exercise will involve a Belarusian-Russian military force as well as some units of the CSTO Collective Rapid Response Forces from Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Armenia. The meeting revealed the state of the relations between Russia and Belarus which have suffered extensively, mainly because of ongoing disagreement over trade issues.
On August 28, Alexander Surikov, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Russia to Belarus, was "invited" to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Belarus. During the meeting, Belarusian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Mikhenvich rejected the "incorrect interpretations and concoctions" concerning the situation connected with the detention of Vladislav Baumgertner, general director of Uralkali, the leading Russian producer of potash, a potassium-based fertilizer ingredient. Mr. Baumgertner was detained by Belarusian authorities on accusations of "exceeding his authority" following a meeting with Belarusian Prime Minister Mikhail Myasnikovich. The move quickly deteriorated the bilateral relations and Russia responded with the suspension of the import of several Belarusian products and announced a 20 percent cut in oil export to Belarus. Since then, the relations between President Lukashenko and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin are said to have reached an all-time low. "We've had too many information issues and other issues in Belarusian-Russian relations recently (…) the last month has turned out to be too violent in our relations, there was a lot of misunderstanding," President Lukashenko admitted.
However Mr. Bordyuzha confined himself to detail the agenda of the Sochi-based CSTO summit and to underline the summit will discuss "several very important matters regarding the buildup of the force component," including "decisions on creating the CSTO air force and the organization of control over the CSTO collective forces." Also, the CSTO chief delivered a quite pessimistic outlook of the security situation at the Tajik-Afghan border. "The overall situation in the Afghan bordering area, the situation development trends are rather negative," said Mr. Bordyuzha. Western countries and NATO, including the US, continue to pressurize Belarus, according to President Lukashenko, and Belarus sided with Russia on the Syrian issue, declaring its support to any international efforts that could prevent the development of a new conflict – a military strike against Syria – in the Middle East. On the international stage, the interests of Belarus and Russia still converge in spite of the trade disputes.
Yet one could see some evolution if not a vague impulse of more independence from Russia in the recent praise by President Lukashenko that Belarus has been chosen as China's European ally on China's way to world leadership. In June, the European Council eased diplomatic contacts with Belarus and suspended the EU travel ban on the Belarusian Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei. In the meantime, US diplomats expressed interest in continuing dialogue after two Belarusian officials came to Washington DC and informed "unnamed counterparts at the Department of State on Belarus' initiatives in the international multilateral cooperation and proposed the American side the potential direction of interaction to solve a number of international problems." Two weeks ago, President Luskashenko expressed confidence that the existing high level of interaction between Belarus and Ukraine will allow develop brand-new cooperation avenues in the near future. Since then, his Ukrainian counterpart Viktor Yanukovych tipped the scales in favor of the European Union and denounced gas contract with Russia.
While President Putin is deploying efforts – effective so far – to prevent the use of force against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime, his foreign policy in Russia's immediate neighborhood is being severely challenged, excepted for Armenia. If such a trend were to continue, all this would likely fragilize Russia's long-term influence.
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