There will be no Hollywood ending in Belarus drama

Linda J. Dodson

Close observers have known for years, the “unique path” of Belarus has long relied on Russian beneficence. Moscow has, since the Soviet collapse, continued to bestow billions of dollars’ worth of de facto annual energy subsidies on Minsk, via cheap crude oil – which Belarus refines for both domestic use and re-export at world prices.

Russia has been gradually withdrawing such subsidies, with Belarus now paying 80pc of the market price for crude, up from 50pc five years ago. Incoming tax changes means Moscow will charge Minsk full price for Russian oil from 2025 ­– which, while Russian gas exports to Belarus will remain subsidised, could cripple the economy altogether.

An increasingly savvy population has grown tired of Lukashenko’s antics. His response to the Covid crisis ­– “Drink vodka and go to the sauna!” – left even his elderly, rural supporters perplexed. Belarus, though, isn’t Ukraine. There will almost certainly be no “Maidan” style revolution or yearning to “join the West”.

On first impression, this crisis does indeed seem like a Hollywood movie – with Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, a photogenic, English-speaking opposition leader, centre stage. Now exiled in Lithuania, this self-styled “stay at home Mum” only stood because the presidential candidacy of her husband – a campaigning, anti-corruption YouTube blogger – ended in his arrest.

Yet Tikhanovskaya bears little animosity towards Moscow. She remains, like much of the Belarussian population, broadly statist, suspicious of the West and extremely mindful of where her country’s bread is buttered.

That’s why, as the EU bumbles, and the US chides Lukashenko, the Kremlin is watching and waiting – its finger on the economic windpipe of its far smaller, helplessly dependent neighbour.

Source Article

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