The following is an overview of the growing tensions between Russia and Belarus:
Russian President Vladimir Putin with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko (Source: Kremlin.ru)
Lukashenko: There Is No Union If There Is No Equitable Basis
On January 10, 2019, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said that the project of unifying Belarus and Russia into a single state is not on the agenda. "The Russian president and I have stated explicitly that there is no such issue of unification on the agenda," Lukashenko said. The Belorussian President further explained: "That's because these are the fundamental principles of forging any union. If there is no equitable basis, then there is no union."
Russian PM Medvedev: Moscow Is Ready To Build The Union State Of Russia And Belarus
Earlier on December 13, 2018, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev stated that Moscow is ready to build the Union State of Russia and Belarus, which would include the setting up of a common money issuance center. Medvedev said: "It is time to assess what has happened to the Union Treaty since 1999, what has been done and what has failed to be done… One scenario can be called conservative as it provides for the keeping of the current Union State's format, without raising the integration level to the limits set by the treaty of December 8, 1999, without forming all the institutions envisaged by that treaty." The Russian Prime Minister emphasized that in this option the sides will continue to shape the Eurasian Economic Union of five nations, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Russia.
Medvedev then explained the other scenario, which he referred it to as the "advanced scenario": "It is based on closer integration up to the frames fixed in the treaty, with the countries' economies being more interdependent… I would like to stress that Russia is ready to continue to follow the path of the Union State, including the setup of a common money issuance center, a common customs service, a common court, a common audit chamber and so on, as provided by the Union State Treaty of December 8, 1999. In this case, we will be able to pursue a common tax policy, a common pricing policy and a common tariff policy in respect of the part that is now referred to the Eurasian Commission. It is up to the Union State Cabinet of Ministers and, naturally, to the Supreme State Council at the presidential level to discuss which of these two scenarios to choose. In any case, we are open for discussion of these matters."
Lukashenko: Our Sovereignty Is Sacred
Lukashenko's meeting with the Russian press (Source: President.gov.by)
The day after Medvedev's address, on December 14, 2018, Lukashenko conducted a media briefing for Russian journalists. Contents of the briefing were barely quoted by the Russian press, probably because Lukashenko used the occasion to strongly criticize Russia. The official Belarusian presidential website has not provided an official read-out in English – only a version in Russian.
Lukashenko's direct quotes:
On Tensions with Russia:
"Regarding hot news information triggers - whatever sparks flew in our arguments at the highest level, don't try to inflate them into a flame. These are merely operational issues in the relations between our countries. There were not yet situations where we could not find a compromise. The Russian Federation is our strategic partner and ally."
On Integration Processes with Russia:
"We demand equal basis for any union [i.e. Russian-Belarusian Union State]. If as is customary in Russia, let's be completely frank, [Russia] departs from the position that we are so huge, while you [Belarus] are smaller, and that is the way it's going to be, then there is nothing to talk about. It's not a union.
"Some [people] say it bluntly – we are not yet prepared that you [Belarus] with your six districts will be a member of Russia. Period. I am able to read between the lines, and you too apparently. I understand these hints [full well]."
"It's possible to just say: you [Belarus] may get [Russian] oil, but you have to ruin your country and become a part of Russia. I always raise a question: such things – what is their purpose? Is Russia ready to incorporate Belarus region by region, or take it as a whole? Just think about the ramifications. Are you ready for that? How will we regard this in our country? How will your country treat that? What will the international community [have to say]? By hook or by crook, [they are trying] to incorporate our country into another one. "
"We will face claims that we sold out our country for oil. Those in Russia who propose this way do not rely on the deep motivations for unifying Belarusians and Russians. No, it's something else [that stands behind it]. I want to ask my friend and colleague [Putin] this question."
"It's useless to try to blackmail us, bend us, to press a knee to our chest… We are not wealthy people, and we won't get wealthier if we fracture ourselves."
"Thus think about this integration – it should serve the aim of unification, unity. This should be a conscious step, conscious choice with no underhanded manipulations. Everything must be done honorably and openly"
"Remember, for us, our sovereignty is sacred. Relative independence is important also. I think there are no completely independent states. So, we are not completely independent, but we are sovereign. If, as [Russian politician and leader of the LDPR party Vladimir] Zhirinovsky has suggested to you, they [Russia] want to carve [Belarus] into regions and shove them into Russia - it's never going to happen. If Russia thinks in such categories – it is detrimental to Russia itself."
On Ukraine, Russia, NATO:
"I don't want the elderly to get killed in Donbass. I know full well what's going on there, I know it better than any of you seated here and even better than the Russian leadership. What are children, women and elders dying there for? Men are fighting somewhere. Let them shoot each other if they have no brains. Should we, the Slavs, fight here? We are the same people. I know Ukrainians. They are not enemies; they are not as bad as we sometimes say. Or you say that in your media. It's high time to stop it, no one watches it anymore. I'll tell you my position: at the moment everyone is afraid that NATO will be stationed there. Recently I've said to Putin: look, we'll soon both beseech God [to let] NATO be there instead of messed up people with weapons. We could end up with that. If there will be messed up people with rifles there they eventually will be given missiles. Aren't you surprised that the US is pulling out of the INF treaty precisely at this moment? So, imagine for a minute that I will have nuclear missiles somewhere in Gomel area, you [Russia] will locate them near Rostov city? Do we want that? So, until it's too late, we should pull ourselves together and do something."
Military Cooperation with Russia:
"Our area of responsibility is the Western direction. We have an [operational] plan in hand in case a deterioration of relations with NATO should occur, or, God forbid, conflict or war. The essence of the plan – it's no secret – we will be the first to go to war. Then, during the [first] month all the armies deployed from ( the Russian border ) to Moscow get mobilized and start defending Belarus. We have nothing of a kind with the Collective Security Treaty Organization. Nothing of the kind with other states. So, the integration is deep right down to military. But this screw up with [Russia's proposed] base … No one needs this base.
"Listen, what's the point to build a base in an old airfield? We discussed this problem with Putin. I asked him: what for? It is a three minute flight from Russia. Why build an airfield at the frontier… If war starts, one missile makes the runway unusable. This was a kind of ill-conceived PR move – we [Russia] will deploy a base there [Belarus]. I told them: be my guests, we have three or four airbases, you may place 10, 20, 30 planes on any of them tomorrow. Even I asked Putin to send a fighter wing, when we hosted the World Championship, just in case. He sent it over. Then they've taken the planes back. Our guys piloted those Russian planes with the Russians. So, I told them [the Russians]: we are a frontier in this direction, give us a dozen of jets. They [said] it was expensive... I told him [Putin], are you hinting that I have to pay for the jets? I don't have such money, I need to pay my gas bills and have loans to pay back…
"We have two very important Russian military base. They do not pay a single ruble or kopeck for them. Yet, elsewhere [the Russians] do pay for the bases. The term of our agreement [regarding the bases] expires in 2019-2020, I have not even raised a question regarding the payment. It's uncomfortable to ask the Russians for money for those bases. The bases perform a common goal... When the agreement regarding a nuclear umbrella for Belarus came to an end, I said that we had to conclude a new one. Do you think the Russians have concluded one with us? Ask your experts. That's the type of union and friendship we have …We have an excellent production facility, we are able to restore and repair any military jet. Forward us a jet, which is still able to fly – we will repair what is necessary. I asked and asked - they did not provide. So, I got angry: we repaired 10 of our own jets during two years, Mig-29 and Sukhoys in order not to bow [to the Russians]."
Reaction To Lukashenko's Address – Independent Russian Journalist Venediktov: Will Belarus Become Another Crimea?
Echo of Moscow editor-in-chief Aleksey Venediktov commented:
"Why is new for us? I’ve always said that I agree with President Lukashenko, that one of the options and visions of the current Kremlin team is the integration with Belarus. The pace and the form of the integration, though vary from Russian and Belarusian view. Yes, Lukashenko wants to preserve Belarusian independence and continue to act as an independent president…
"Naturally, for Russia and Putin, as far as I understand him, if we are the same people with the Ukrainians, even more so with the Belarusians. The question is whether the Belarusians wants it? This is a good question what Belarusian citizens want as opposed to the elites, who want to keep freedom of maneuver. Thus, sparks flare constantly between the Russian and Belarusian elites…
"Yes, Lukashenko is coming for another visit 25-26-27 of December to meet with Putin, it’s not only the matter of oil and gas prices or various resentments– this is the essential story, whether Belarus will become a kind of Crimea in one form or another…
"I can imagine the current ruling team’s views on Belarus. It’s the same view as it was with Crimea. When it [Belarus] falls in our hands – we’ll take it. What’s the news, I don’t get it. Any perceptive person, without any inside information or having much less inside information than I have, could have long reached the same conclusions: if it [Belarus] over-ripens it will fall into Russian hands, if it does not over-ripen– it will not."
Belarusian Media Outlet Nasha Niva: Lukashenko Held A Closed Door Meeting With His Government
According to the Belarusian website Nasha Niva, Lukashenko held a closed door discussion with his government regarding the question of "what to do given the pressure from the Russian side".
Two unidentified sources told the media outlet: " A broad consultation with the President [Lukashenko] took place. It was decided to insist on our sovereignty till the very last. Everyone has agreed on that."
The same sources added: "The question of Russia was raised. One of the assignments set – to monitor the informational field more closely."
Putin Endorsed The Union State’s Draft Military Doctrine
On December 19, 2018, Putin ordered the approval of the draft military doctrine of the Union State submitted by the Russian government. The Russian news agency TASS explained: "The Belarusian Council of Ministers earlier endorsed the draft military doctrine of the Union State of Belarus and Russia and decreed to submit the document for consideration by the Council of Ministers of the Union State.
"The Union State’s military doctrine is being developed in accordance with the top-priority goals of the Union State’s development for 2018-2022. The document should reflect Minsk’s and Moscow’s views on the problem of ensuring the security of the entire Union State. The approval of its final version will make it possible to bring security laws in line with the current situation in the world."
Putin-Lukashenko Meeting – Putin: We Have To Prevent Future Complications
On December 25, 2018, Russian President Vladimir Putin had a meeting with Lukashenko. The discussion between the two leaders focused on key issues of bilateral cooperation. In the meeting, Putin reminded Lukashenko that the bilateral trade between the two countries increased, though there are problems concerning energy relations. Putin then added that Moscow and Misnk should do their best to prevent any "future complications."
Lukashenko also stressed the strong relations between Belarus and Russia and underlined that problems between the two countries can be settled.
The day before the meeting, it was reported that Russia rejected all proposals made by Belarus on gas prices and compensation for the tax maneuver. "We had to start [addressing] the issues related to gas prices in the middle of this year and finish by the end of the year as we agreed with [Russian President] Vladimir V. [Putin] at a meeting in St. Petersburg to settle oil issues connected with the tax maneuver in the Russian Federation. However, Russia rejected all our proposals, which virtually means a missed deadline," Lukashenko said.
Below are excerpts from the meeting's transcript:
Putin: "Mr Lukashenko, friends,
"We are delighted to welcome you to Moscow ahead of the New Year. As agreed, we are meeting just a few days before 2019.
"Overall, I believe that our relations have been developing quite well. Last year, our bilateral trade increased by over 23 percent, to exceed $32 billion. This year, it grew by another 12 percent. This means that the yearend figure will be greater than last year.
"Belarus has accumulated a substantial amount of Russian direct investment, which has reached some $4 billion. Most importantly, our relations are diversified and are developing in the industry and agriculture, both of which are growing.
"Of course, there are some problems, which is natural given the extensive scope of our interaction. Most of them concern energy relations, although we believe that we have accomplished a great deal in this sphere as well, especially within the framework of the Eurasian Economic Union, but also in bilateral relations.
"Today we have an opportunity to talk about all these topics. Our colleagues have held consultations to prepare this meeting. I suggest that we listen to both sides even if we fail to reach any final agreements. But it will be excellent if we reach them.
"Anyway, I believe that there are reasons to be satisfied with our bilateral relations and that we must do our best to prevent any future complications. Despite the problems we are facing in these spheres, we have always managed to find acceptable solutions.
"We are delighted to see you. Welcome to Moscow."
Lukashenko: "Thank you, Mr Putin.
"Indeed, we keep our word. We agreed at our meeting in St Petersburg not to make a mess of our talks, because we had too much on the agenda and there were very many people involved. We agreed to resume our conversation in Moscow.
"We are grateful to you for choosing the time for our meeting here to discuss the issues we need to discuss in light of the many problems in our relations, which, to tell the truth, are very advanced and close. No other peoples have closer relations than Belarusians and Russians.
"We are moving forward, just as we agreed. It is natural that we encounter certain problems on our way, but they are incomparable to our achievements, which we have enumerated in figures. And you have said just now that we can come to an agreement.
"I can tell you more. We can really come to an agreement because the teams we have with us now have held a round of talks and they have studied our problems thoroughly. You and I know every detail of the problems and issues we need to discuss today. Of course, it would be great if we settled them now so as not to drag them over into next year, because it is bad when old problems continue into next year.
"I would like to congratulate you on the wonderful conversation you had with Russian citizens. All Belarusians, including myself, listened to that news conference and saw the reaction of Russian society to the problems you outlined. They are important for us as well, because we are deeply involved in global developments.
"If we have any problems, I believe – let us be honest – that their causes are not here, and we are not to blame for their development. We are involved in this global process, and so the current problems in global trade, economy and politics, as well as in military matters, concern us as well, one way or another. We do not want to be involved in these problems, but we are and so we have to resolve them.
"I would like to have fewer problems for us or our ministers and governments to deal with, but some of these waves reach us as well. And it is our destiny to deal with them. I believe that, being aware of these problems, we will once again find a solution that will be acceptable to both Belarusians and Russians."
Putin And Lukashenko Met Again Before The End Of The Year – Lukashenko: 'I Was Joking That We Are Tired Of Each Other'
The two heads of state met again on December 29, for further discussions on current issues of bilateral cooperation. During the meeting, Lukashenko said that he was only "joking" when he said that "we are tired of each other." "We probably never will be, because there are issues that need to be discussed, this is our work. Indeed, last time we agreed that we would talk seriously about our further coexistence in this difficult world; we cannot get away from it because many problems must be dealt with for the future," Lukashenko stated. The Belarusian president also raised the issue of the Union Treaty.
Below are excerpts of the meeting's transcript:
Putin: "Mr Lukashenko,
"This is the second time we are meeting this week."
Lukashenko: "More and more often. (Laughter.)"
Putin: "This is good. Thank you for accepting my invitation and for coming here.
"As we agreed, we are creating a working group for the further development of our economic relations and other areas and, as you proposed, we will work on our plans for the Union State development.
"I propose discussing this topic today – what has been done on our part. You said you would issue relevant instructions to the Government so that our colleagues from the Belarusian side could work on it.
"We will compare notes on how the work begins, or rather continues, in the areas in which we agreed to step up work at our last meeting.
"And the New Year’s Eve is close: let’s wish each other a very happy New Year."
Lukashenko: "Thank you, Mr Putin, first of all for your invitation just ahead of the New Year.
"I was joking that we are tired of each other. We probably never will be, because there are issues that need to be discussed, this is our work.
"Indeed, last time we agreed that we would talk seriously about our further coexistence in this difficult world; we cannot get away from it because many problems must be dealt with for the future. Therefore, I have indeed been working hard on the coordination of the same issues that we need to consider so that they would not stand in the way of our integration – just as I know you have, too.
"We have formed a group in a similar way as in Russia, and made similar decisions to you in terms of the membership and leadership of the group. I think that after the holidays, as soon as the time comes, we will be ready to work, as will you here in Russia. Moreover, all the questions are spelled out in the Union Treaty; we have listed them last time. And indeed it is good that we finally came to the solution of these issues."
Putin: "Thank you. This may be a start of a good tradition to meet before the New Year."
Lukashenko: "Maybe. I also want to wish a Happy New Year to you, to the Russian people, our brothers. This is a highly anticipated holiday. I know you love this holiday, as do I. Please pass on my best wishes to your family, friends and all Russians."
Putin: "For my part, I wish a Happy New Year to you and all of Belarus and all citizens of Belarus. I wish you happiness and good luck in the New Year."
Lukashenko: "Thank you."
 Tass.com, January 10, 2019.
 Tass.com, January 10, 2019.
 Tass.com, December 13, 2018.
 President.gov.by, December 14, 2018.
 Echo.msk.ru, December 15, 2018.
 NN.by, December 15, 2018.
 Tass.com, December 19, 2018.
 Kremlin.ru, December 25, 2018.
 Tass.com, December 14, 2018.
 Kremlin.ru, December 29, 2018.