Russia will stand on the side of Belarus, the Russian Foreign Ministry promised. This may cost Russia a lot of money. Should Russia support Alexander Lukashenko's regime financiall?
Dmitry Birichevsky, the director of the Department for Economic Cooperation of the Russian Foreign Ministry, said in an interview with RIA Novosti that Russia would stand up for Belarus if the West imposed sanctions on it.
"I think that we will stand up for our partner Belarus, we will help our allies. What the Westerners have been coming up with against Belarus lately causes absolutely negative emotions. First off, one needs to conduct investigation into what happened, before reacting to those events," Birichevsky said.
"We need to discuss this with our partners and see what we can do," the diplomat added.
After the arrest of extremist Roman Protasevich, who was on the Athens-Vilnius Ryanair flight, which was forcefully landed in Minsk on May 23 following a bomb report, the EU banned Belarusian airlines from flying to European cities and recommended EU airline should not fly in Belarusian airspace.
The USA and the EU are expected to impose a package of sanctions on main sectors of the Belarusian economy:
A spokesman for the US Treasury said that nine state-owned Belarusian companies would fall under the sanctions. White House spokeswoman Jane Psaki named a few:
The above companies will be deprived of financing in US dollars. Sanctions have already been imposed on Naftan refinery.
European Union officials made it clear that the sanctions against Belarus would affect the potassium industry. Until recently, the above-mentioned articles of Belarusian exports brought about $8 billion to the budget of Belarus annually, according to Forbes.
As long as the West does not recognise Alexander Lukashenko as the legitimate president of Belarus, the Ministry of Finance of Belarus can borrow funds only from the states that do recognise him as such. Traditionally, this is Russia. In other words, Russia is supposed to make up for the above-mentioned losses, and it appears that Lukashenko has convinced Putin of this in five hours of their talks in Sochi.
As soon as the Putin-Lukashenko summit was over, the Kremlin immediately announced that it would allocate the second tranche of the one-billion-dollar loan announced earlier this year in the amount of $500 million. It is worthy of note that in addition to lost revenue, Minsk holds $18.3 billion of external public debt that needs to be refinanced. This makes Belarus dependant on Russian capital markets — practically the only source of funding.
Russian MP Leonid Kalashnikov said that the recognition of Crimea would be a condition for an alliance with Armenia and Belarus.
Political scientist Dmitry Bolkunets told Pravda. Ru that the assistance that Russia provides directly to Lukashenko largely does not reach the Belarusian population, which causes criticism inside the Belarusian society and a growth of anti-Russian sentiments in Belarus.
"Many believe that this is how Lukashenko retains his power. He spends money on law enforcement agencies, to preserve the repressive machine,” said the political scientist.
Dmitry Bolkunets believes that "from the point of view of international law, Lukashenko is not a legitimate leader," therefore, any agreements on financial assistance to Belarus "will be challenged in court at any time after the change of power."
"In this case, a country or an investor that will provide such assistance risks losing lawsuits, as was the case with Yanukovych. Therefore, in this situation, I would be skeptical about the statements from the Russian Foreign Ministry," said Dmitry Bolkunets.
He is convinced that Lukashenko will never recognize Crimea as Russian.
"This is what is needed? This is not the task that worries everyone today. Let's assume Belarus will recognize Crimea as Russian territory. Will it make life in Crimea easier? Of course, not. This is nothing but media hype," said Dmitry Bolkunets.
For his part, political scientist Aleksey Dzermant believes that Belarus will have to recognize Crimea and launch direct flights there from Minsk. The main question, in his opinion, is what to do with Ukraine after that, as Minsk has an impressive trade turnover with Kiev — up to $5 billion in surplus a year, and a negative balance with Russia — up to $10 billion.
"This is what our leaders will have to agree on. This will take time. The West will force to sever ties with Russia and Belarus. This means that Crimea can and should be recognized,” Alexey Dzermant concluded.
Putin said long ago that the recognition or non-recognition of Crimea as Russian by someone would not change anything for Russia.
Lukashenko stated that the question of Crimea's return to Ukraine was closed once and for all. The Crimea issue will be resolved unexpectedly and quickly, but this is not a matter of tomorrow, of course. Lukashenko knows how to make surprise decisions. Putin discussed Crimea with Lukashenko, no doubts about that. However, the question is not about Crimea — it is most importantly to keep NATO away from Belarus and to bring Russia and Belarus as close as possible.