From our correspondent
With the Protassevich affair, Moscow plunges into its contortional diplomacy with Minsk. Kremlin chief Vladimir Putin, who meets regularly with Alexander Lukashenko and was due to receive him soon, did not speak personally. But the Belarusian president knows he can count on his ally.
Saying out loud what many think in Europe, British Foreign Minister Dominic Raab has claimed he is “Hard to believe” that Moscow did not agree to the hijacking of the commercial flight and the arrest of the Belarusian opponent on board. Nevertheless, the Kremlin spokesperson played it safe, especially since the opponent’s companion, a Russian national, was also arrested when getting off the plane. “There are certain international rules and the international air authorities must give an assessment”, said Dmitry Peskov.
A facade of neutrality. Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov quickly ruled ” reasonable “ the approach to Minsk. He was certainly not speaking directly on the substance of the case, but on the declared intentions of the Belarusian authorities, anxious to “Guarantee full transparency”, he assured, calling on the international community to ” keep cool “.
Its spokesperson, Maria Zakharova, known for her anti-Western pikes, was more virulent: “It is shocking that the West considers the incident in Belarusian airspace shocking”, she quipped, referring the United States and Europe to “Their past of kidnappings, forced landings and illegal arrests”. A usual defense tactic in Moscow: to turn Western criticism against them.
Paradoxically, the Kremlin follows with relish the new sanctions against Minsk. Itself targeted by American and European measures, Russia can easily explain their ineffectiveness. But these sanctions weaken Alexander Lukashenko a little more and, suddenly, bring him closer to Vladimir Putin. The latter, since the recognition of the re-election of his ally in August 2020, continues to blow hot and cold. Their personal relationships have always been difficult, between ice hockey games and tense negotiations. They have since met at least twice face to face. Working visits, without a press conference. So without official results.
In his speech to the nation last month, the Kremlin leader again portrayed his ambiguous support. On several occasions he has denounced Western silence on a supposed attempt to ” Rebellion “ in Minsk, where Alexander Lukashenko is said to have foiled an assassination. But he cast doubt on his strategy. Behind the official and vague title of the menu of their interviews, “The future development of alliance relations”, the Russian president is suspected of wanting to relaunch his old project of integrating Belarus into Russia: an idea rejected by a majority of Belarusians, which Alexander Lukashenko has regularly opposed.
This mistrust of Minsk is all the less understood in Moscow as half of Belarusian GDP depends on the powerful neighbor. Moscow, with at least eight loans made to Minsk since 2008, is Belarus’ largest creditor. Another subject of tension: the resumption of exports of Russian oil bought at low prices then refined in Belarus and exported at market prices. These aids maintain the survival of Belarus. And its president.