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All-Belarusian People's Assembly was very pro-Russian. Why?
A multi-vector foreign policy at its best
The subject of relations between Belarus and Russia kept coming up at the recent All-Belarusian People's Assembly. Alyalsandr Lukashenka has "resuscitated" the constitutional reform which is considered to be a Russian project and which he seemed to have already given up on. He even set a deadline: a referendum on the Constitution is planned for early 2022. Foreign Minister Uladzimir Makei has called for having 50% of Belarusian foreign trade with Russia. Yury Vaskrasenski, who is responsible for the "dialogue with the opposition," suggested naming a square or an avenue in Minsk after Russia (the social networks immediately suggested renaming Independence Square). And the Russian flag appeared on the screen above the stage (next to the Belarusian one) for a while.
In addition, there was plenty of traditional pro-Russian rhetoric. Among them were "Russia has been and will be our main economic partner and strategic ally," "They are our people, with whom we've lived for centuries sometimes back to back, sometimes shoulder to shoulder," and the like.
And all of this happened against the background of the opening speech, in which Lukashenka tried to present his opponents as anti-Russian as possible. They wanted, he said, to withdraw Belarus from the integration alliances, restore control at the border, limit broadcasting of Russian TV channels, replace the Russian Orthodox Church with the autocephalous Orthodox Church, keep the Russian companies away from privatization, withdraw Russian military facilities from the territory of Belarus, and (imagine that!) switch the educational activities in the army exclusively into the Belarusian language. The program of Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya does not have aby of this. Moreover, supporters of the "old" opposition criticized her for trying to engage in a dialogue with Vladimir Putin. However, if Lukashenka is to be believed, all of the above did not happen only because he retained power in his hands.
Uladzimir Makei stressed that Belarus can no longer aspire to neutrality ("in the modern globalized world, neutrality in its classical sense does not exist"), but remains a multi-vector country. True, one vector seriously outweighs the others:
"The concept of multi-vectorism absolutely does not exclude the predominance of any vector. Our priorities have been shaped by life. Russia has always been, is and will remain our strategic partner".
Kommersant published a story about the forthcoming meeting between Putin and Lukashenka in Sochi a few hours before the summit began. According to the newspaper, the Belarusian leader is expected to raise the issue of another $3 billion Russian loan. Putin's press secretary Dmitry Peskov neither confirmed nor denied this rumor, stating that the agenda of the meeting was still work in progress.
Can the obvious pro-Russian vector of the All-Belarusian People's Assembly be related to the desire for a big loan? Of course, it can. However, there was some light criticism of Russia. In particular, Lukashenka's statement that "here, in Belarus, we are a stronghold of our common fatherland, we will die for our country - including Russia," which was actively discussed on social feeds, has to do with the Russian approach to integration with Belarus. "I am not asking for free natural gas, oil or free financial resources. We need one thing - equal conditions for economic entities. And then..." - This is a traditional point in Lukashenka's rhetoric, which the Kremlin's attempts to get closer and deeper have always crashed against in recent years.