Belarus-Russia Relations. Towards Realism Prof. Dr. Alexei Pikulik The agenda of the presentation: • Mapping the contexts: Belarus as a rentier-state. The political creation of the external rents. • From the pre-elections rhetoric in the Russian media to the post-election realism. Demystifying Russia's ambitions in Belarus. • When the political and the economic logic meet: Belarus as the offshore zone for Russian business and the geopolitical/integrational partner of Russia. • What is next? The post 2012 election scenarios. Preambule: • The Belarus-Russian relations are generally non-transparent, hence the presentation will contain certain speculative arguments and assumptions. • Yet, we have enough evidence to see the forest beyond the trees and to draw the conclusions, although the data is not alwasy that hard. Mapping the contexts: the receipt of Lukashenka's political survival (the pre-2011 trend) • Politically create the external economic rents needed for maintaining an inclusive autocracy. • Tunnel the rents into the economy to maintain a socialist-mixed welfare state. • Preempt democratization (learning from the fellow autocrats), by making a) exit simple, b) protest expensive and c) loyalty lucrative. The sources of the external rents (up to 30% of the GDP): • Discounted oil refined in Belarus and exported to the EU (Russian companies used Belarus as the oil offshore since early 2000s) • Discounted gas (products competitive pricewise) • Unlimited/administratively stimulated demand for Belarusian goods on the Russian market • Assymetrical interstate institutions with Russia (loopholes in the customs institutions, smuggling, barter, price arbitrage, etc.) • OVERALL: The Russian budget was the sponsor of the 'Belarusian economic miracle'. The pre-eleciton anti-Lukashenka rhetoric in Russian media. • To lower down Lukashenka's approval rating in Russia. • To send a signal to the Belarusian political elites (in case anyone would volunteer to become a president). • To get extra levers on Lukashenka The three main myths about Russia's ambitions in Belarus: • Russia wants to absorb Belarus politically. • Russia wants to privatize the Belarusian economy for 1 dollar. (sad story in Ukraine) • Russia's main existential fear is that Belarus might re-open the dialogue with the West. Towards the realism: • Belarus is a key-partner in the new integrational game of Vladimir Putin. • (key-point) Economic rents are made available to Lukashenka again via loopholes in the Custom's Union. • Russia wants to increase its ROI in Belarus via rationalization of the economic relations. • Russia wants economic reforms in Belarus and will welcome turning Belarus into a new quasi-offshore zone Belarus as the new offshore zone for Russia? • In the light of the capital flight from Russia (estimates are about 60 bln USD/year) AND • In the light of the new conditions for Russian capital is Switzerland, Luxemburg and Latvia, there is a need for a new offshore • Belarus is turning into one (i.e. Gambling, banking operations, oil trading, etc.) The political implications • The Western leverage/linkage are diminished by the Russian game—hence-- the political warming up might be postponed for another 6 months. • In the light of the crisis, and the society 'standing in between', there is less chance for the managed democracy to come about in Belarus. • In the light of the diminishing rents from Russia, the regime is turning into an exclusive autocratic: rents are not given away generousely to the many, but the access to rents is granted to the some. What's next? -Russia will increase its pressure on Belarus after 2012 elections. -But will it be really able to afford supporting the integrational allies? THANK YOU!