Tensions between Belarus and Russia keep on growing. During the Old New Year reception, on January 11, Belarusian President Aleksander Lukashenko stressed that 2019 will not be easy for Belarus, since Russia is going to put the country under pressure. Lukashenko said: "The upcoming year will be different for all of you: easy for some, hard for others. Yet, I may tell you for sure that for our country, our people, 2019 and 2020 are not going to be easy. It's not going to be easy, because - frankly speaking - they will seriously 'try their teeth on us', in order to check whether we are worthy of that independence, which we talk about always and everywhere."
The previous day , on January 10, Lukashenko held a meeting on the country's socio-economic development in 2019 with members of the government. During the meeting, the Belarusian President raised the issue of unification with Russia. The official presidential website reported Lukashenko's claim that Russia's actions contradict the content and the spirit of all previous agreements, including in the framework of the Eurasian economic union. "Some are saying in Russia: 'We have no obligations to compensate your losses [following the Russian 'fiscal maneuver' regarding the supply of oil and gas to Belarus], it's not stated anywhere in the mutual agreements regarding the Union State.' Then, I'm asking a direct question: so when we signed the agreement we were supposed to count on economic deterioration following internal action by Russia? No, we counted on the best," Lukashenko stated.
He then added: "We should prioritize economic and financial questions - they should be solved first (and it was the Russian President's suggestion)", said Lukashenko. Yet he claimed that the Russian government had already taken unilateral decisions on all the aforementioned questions while forgotting to inform the Russian president on those decisions.
Lukashenko then warned that if Russia will not change its policies towards Belarus, Minsk will be obliged to find other centers of power. "Yet, don't consider it [the fiscal maneuver] to be a catastrophe. If the leadership of Russia chooses such a path and the loss of its only ally in the western direction [Belarus is considered to be a buffer zone between NATO and Russia], it's their choice. We can't force them," added the Belarusian President.
During her weekly, Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Maria Zakharova was asked to comments on Lukashenko's remarks and on whether it is possible that that if Moscow refuses to compensate Minsk for losses from the tax maneuver in the oil sector, Russia could lose an ally to the West.
Zakharova diplomatically answered: "We have received several requests to comment on the statements by President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko. Belarus is our reliable ally and partner. The policy of expanding strategic cooperation with Minsk is beyond doubt. This is codified, in particular, in our country’s Foreign Policy Concept.
"We believe that a lot can still be done within the Union State to increase the effectiveness of this integration format. A Russian-Belarusian working group has been created for this purpose.
"As for the specific issues raised by President Lukashenko (supply of agricultural products, tax maneuvers, motor transport services, etc.), there is a dialogue underway between the relevant national agencies."
The influential St. Petersburg blogger Anatoly Nesmeyan, known as El-Murid commented that Zakharova's answer was part of Russia's "diplomatic demagogy". The truth, according to El Murid, is that Lukashenko was put by the Kremlin in a corner with little room for maneuver. Lukashenko's only option is to look for centers of power to rely on.
Below is El Murid's editorial, titled "Diplomatic Demagogy":
Anatoly Nesmeyan (Source: Slavyangrad.org)
Lukashenko's Maneuverability Is Limited; The Kremlin Pushed Him Into A Corner
"Today [January 11, 2019], the Russian Foreign Ministry commented on [Belorussian President Alexander] Lukashenko's remarks that Russia could lose an ally if it continues with its policy [towards Belarus].
"Well, the official Ministry's response was the catchphrase that the strategic relations between Russia and Belarus are beyond doubt, [and that] the dialogue (in particular, on the conflictual "tax maneuver") is conducted through relevant agencies. In fact, the question was about one thing, while the response referred to a different issue. In ordinary life, this is called demagogy, in politics it’s a diplomatic response.
"Simultaneously, Belarus took a significant step – [the Belarusian] authorities began sounding out the US regarding a possible lifting of restrictions on the number of American diplomats stationed in Minsk. The restrictions were introduced long ago due to deterioration in bilateral relations. At the moment, Lukashenko intends to demonstratively change that. It is clear that the step is taken in the context of an emerging conflict situation vis-à-vis Russia.
"Lukashenko's space for maneuver, clearly, is seriously limited, however the Kremlin practically pushed him into a corner. [The Kremlin’s] blatant blackmailing leaves [Lukashenko] with no other option but to seek out other centers of power that Belarus can rely upon. Putin is making the same mistake that ultimately brought Russia-Ukraine relations to today's sad finale.
"On the other hand, [Putin] doesn’t have too many options either - the approaching 'transfer of power', which is needed to continue to be in the permanent position as the country's leader (and in this case it is even unimportant - which one) forces him to sort through scenarios for usurping power, while the scenario of [creating] the Union State [Russia and Belarus] is the most attractive. Of course, we are not talking about a real Union State - the scenario proposed to Lukashenko is not much different from a common Anschluss [the annexation of Austria into Nazi Germany on 12 March 1938].
"The Ukrainian experience is still taken into consideration; it seems that for the moment the Kremlin rules out a direct aggression which implies sending troops. That apparently does not derive from a sudden stroke of humanism, but from the down to earth concern that the Kremlin cannot wage three wars simultaneously. [Russia] does has no idea how to quit the ongoing two wars [in Ukraine and Syria]. Yet, the threat is definitely real, taking into consideration the unpredictability of Kremlin’s decision making process and the blatant adventurism of the current Russian [foreign] policy. Yet, there are no clear indications at the moment of a possibility of a [military] aggression [against Belarus]. This in turn allows Lukashenko a space for maneuvering. This is exactly what he is doing.
"In general, the situation is terrifying: the policy [fate] of a huge country is dependent on the desire of a single person to remain in power and guarantee security and safety for himself, for his close friends and their accumulated assets. This is the [real] reason for actions, which objectively create a hostile environment for a country and it will take generations to change that… [They] may try to feed [the people] a line about unknown enemies who dream to enslave the freedom-loving Russian people, yet in reality Russia is turning into Venezuela, whose leadership has brought the country to total catastrophe and yet is stubbornly blaming world imperialism for all its ills. It’s like if there was no imperialism, we would be resting in heaven."
 President.gov.by, January 11, 2019.
 President.gov.by, January 10, 2019.
 Mid.ru, January 11, 2019.
 El-murid.livejournal.com, January 11, 2019.
See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 7842, Russia's Orbit – Belarus President Lukashenko: The Issue Of Unifying Belarus With Russia Is Not On The Current Agenda, January 13, 2019; MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 7843, Russia's Orbit – Ukrainian Expert Khara: Why Share Power And Money With Lukashenko If It Is Better To Swallow His Country? Russia's Expansionist Policy Will Exhaust Its Resources, January 14, 2019.