Alexander Lukashenko could have gone down in history as the father of the Belarusian state. Now “Europe’s last dictator” is on his last leg. A rigged election has unleashed unprecedented protests.
Desperate, Lukashenko has turned to his ally, Vladimir Putin, for help. Belarusian state media report that Russia has promised to provide military assistance if Lukashenko asks for it. This has sparked speculation that Russia might intervene in Belarus much as it did in Ukraine when its Russia-friendly president, Viktor Yanukovich, was ousted in 2014.
In what have been some of the worst clashes between Armenia and Azerbaijan in years, sixteen soldiers and one civilian were killed in the last two weeks. Armenia has threatened to bomb an Azerbaijani reservoir. Azerbaijan has threatened to destroy an Armenian nuclear plant. These may be empty threats, but they speak to the level of tension between the two countries.
Tensions between Belarus and Russia prompted American secretary of state Mike Pompeo to pay Alexander Lukashenko a visit this weekend. He told the Belarusian leader that the United States could fulfill all of his country’s oil needs if he wants to become “independent” from Russia.
This shouldn’t be taken seriously. Besides the hypocrisy — how “independent” would Belarus be if it traded its dependence on Russia for a dependence on the United States? — it would be logistically and financially almost impossible for America to meet the complete oil needs of Russia’s closest ally.
Mikhail Mishustin was largely unknown both in- and outside Russia until two weeks ago. The head of the Federal Tax Service since 2010, he was unexpectedly promoted to prime minister, replacing Vladimir Putin’s longtime deputy, Dmitri Medvedev.
Russian president Vladimir Putin has called for a referendum to approve constitutional changes that would nominally hand more power to parliament.
The changes, if approved, might improve Russia’s rating in the Freedom House index, but democracy is probably not on his mind.
Only hours after his yearly address to the combined Federal Assembly, in which he made his proposals, Putin accepted the resignation of Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev and replaced him with the little-known head of the Federal Tax Service, Mikhail Mishustin.
Russia and Ukraine have agreed to secure the flow of natural gas into Europe for the next five years. A deal between the two countries satisfies the economic needs of all three parties involved. Russia guarantees the export of its gas, Ukraine continues to benefit financially from transiting the gas, and the EU receives a steady supply of gas for the immediate future.
Gazprom, the Russian gas monopoly, will pipe 65 billion cubic metres of gas into Europe in 2020. The amount will fall to 40 billion over the next four years. The agreement mentions the possibility of extending the contract by another ten years upon maturity.
Ukraine will receive up to $7 billion in transit fees, which would be around 5 percent of its national budget.
An agreement has not (yet) been reached on direct gas supplies to Ukraine. For the time being, it only stands to benefit financially.
Earlier this month, the presidents of Belarus and Russia met in Sochi to discuss a merger of their two states. Nothing came of the meeting. Another is due on Friday. It is unlikely to produce results either.
At this rate, the annual talks about closer integration are becoming a tradition without meaning.
For the first time in three years, the “Normandy Four” are due to meet in Paris on Monday.
This negotiation format, consisting of France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine, brought about the Minsk I and Minsk II ceasefire agreements in 2014 and 2015. Even though their implementation was incomplete, the Normandy Four was still seen as a somewhat successful example of multilateral cooperation.