Will Russia ‘buy’ Belarus? Expert opinions
Political scientists and economists predict the weakening of President Alexander Lukashenko’s power, an increase in his dependence on Russia, and the collapse of the country’s economy.
The Republic, an independent Russian publication, asked both Russian and Belarusian political scientists and economists the following question: “What awaits Belarus in the near future?”
Following the presidential elections on August 9, 2020, the results of which were not recognized by the Belarusian opposition and most Western countries, protests in Belarus have persisted non-stop.
Authorities are using force to suppress them, which has already resulted in several deaths and thousands of demonstrators being arrested and tortured.
Looming economic crisis
According to economist and University of Chicago professor Konstantin Sonin, “if President Lukashenko continues to hold power for a few more years under such conditions of conflict, then a serious economic crisis occur.”
“And the support that they can get from Russia will not be enough to effectively stop it. There is even a possibility of the economy completely collapsing and power being taken by the security agencies,” states Sonin.
In his opinion, Lukashenko will not be able to hold power for more than a few years: his support in every section of the population is too small.
Russian plan – “constitutional reform”?
Maxim Samorukov, an analyst at the Carnegie Center, believes that in exchange for the $1.5 billion loan granted to Lukashenko at a recent meeting with Russian President Putin, the Kremlin wants to in-turn receive constitutional reform in Belarus.
The calculation is as follows: as a result, Lukashenko “will cease to be the autocratic ruler of Belarus,” and “instead of him there will be a lax collective ruling elite who don’t trust each other and are uncertain of their position even within the country” with whom it will be easier for Russia to negotiate.
Lukashenko, who is still managing the security forces and has ultimately fallen out of favor with the West, is of benefit enough to Russia to keep him in power, even if weakened.
Will Russia ‘buy’ Belarus?
Political scientist and research fellow at University College London Vladimir Pastukhov believes that Russia will not formally absorb Belarus, it is too costly both economically and in terms of foreign relations.
However, Lukashenko, given his vulnerable position, will in any case have to bargain and make concessions. And Russia will try to “get as many tidbits as possible, while paying a reasonable price for it.”
Belarusian analyst Alexander Klaskovsky agrees.
“Moscow will now prefer to increase its role in the Belarusian economy and buy strategic assets,” he stated.
Integration with Russia
Alexander Morozov, a political scientist and employee of Charles University in Prague, predicts that the Kremlin is going to continue to try to integrate countries and “create a situation in which one could say that something along the lines of the ‘European Union’ is emerging: a single currency, a single parliament, but at the same time, national governments entirely independently form their own budgets.
Lukashenko, according to Morozov, can no longer effectively resist these plans – and will have to become part of them.