02/24/2021, 10.34
RUSSIA - BELARUS
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Putin and Lukashenko in Sochi, while protests continue

by Vladimir Rozanskij

Amid excursions in the snow and hot saunas, the two "eternal leaders" reportedly spoke about economic aid, but also about the succession to Lukashenko. Belarus protests will resume on 25 March. Communist demonstrations in Moscow, Novokujbyshev, Ulan-Ude, followed by many arrests.

Moscow (AsiaNews) - Yesterday, 23 February, the "Defenders of the Fatherland Day" was celebrated in Russia and Belarus, a military holiday that dates back to the establishment of the Revolutionary Red Army.

Presidents Vladimir Putin and Aleksandr Lukashenko held a joint celebration together at a summit in Sochi, including excursions in the snow and hot saunas, while in Russia Communist Party activists tried to gather for unauthorized protest marches, in what they consider their national celebration.

The meeting of the two disputed presidents was not followed by statements, and the terms of the agreements reached between them are not known. There is talk of a request for subsidies from Lukashenko, of about 3 billion dollars. The Belarusian media evaluate the negotiation as positive judging by its length, having lasted for over 6 hours.

But according to all commentators, the real issue at stake would be the modality of Lukashenko’s agreed exit, given that Putin himself cannot afford to control the protests of two bordering ‘brother’ nationa.

Just as the other faithful "brother-leader", the Kazakh Nursultan Nazarbaev, taught, it would be advisable for all "eternal presidents" to take a step to the side and prepare succession, maintaining structures of control.

As the 2020 Russian constitutional reforms show, Putin himself would be ready to leave the scene leaving an iron bureaucracy in his place. But the same cannot be said of Lukashenko, who in no way intends to give in to the shame of being replaced by opponents.

The Belarusian constitutional reforms are for now only a project on paper, and there are no guarantees of implementation. For this reason, the only words that Lukashenko leaked are those on the "integration at a high price" between Russians and Belarusians, to force Putin to take on his problems.

The integration between Russia and Belarus was also discussed in the previous meeting, last September 14, when Minsk was still shaken by constant protests.

At the time Putin granted a credit of 1.5 billion dollars. This time, the "high price" should double the stakes. Before the protests, Lukashenko himself was trying to curb the Russian desire to incorporate his country.

There are many points under discussion about the integration agreement (over 30), starting with the common currency and supranational government structures, but the economic part now seems to be the most urgent. Scepticism prevails among Russian analysts, however, for fear of having to take on the "toxic debt" of current Belarus.

Lukashenko assured that he had "definitively" stopped the protests. But his legitimacy and resistance remain strongly in doubt, nor can a truly loyal succession to Moscow be predicted.

From her Lithuanian exile, the opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaja has called for renewed protests on "Freedom Day", next March 25, when the founding of the People's Republic of Belarus in 1918 is remembered.

According to Tikhanovskaya "we see that attempts are being made to sell off Belarus in pieces, in exchange for credits and aid to stay in power for a few more months… the only force capable of stopping the sale is the Belarusian people”.

In Russia, the protests of Naval’ny supporters are on hold, after the leader’s conviction and the arrest of most of his lieutenants. His wife Julia Naval'naja has just returned home from Germany.

Communists, nostalgic for the Red Army and Soviet grandeur, have tried to take to the streets. At least 600 people managed to parade in Moscow, next to Red Square, also chanting slogans against Putinian repressions.

In Novokujbyshev, in the Samara region, 15 people were arrested for laying flowers under a monument to Lenin, on charges of "illegal agitation".

Demonstrations by Communists, with hundreds of people, were organized in Buryatia, in the capital Ulan-Ude, where there were many arrests, including some local deputies.

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