Russia has praised recent parliamentary elections in Belarus while
international observers criticized the balloting. In this report from
Washington, Senior Correspondent André de Nesnera looks at the
relationship between Moscow and Minsk.
President Alexander Lukashenko said the September 28 parliamentary
elections were conducted in line with his country's laws and were an
important step towards democracy. But observers from the Organization
for Security and Cooperation in Europe said they fell significantly
short of international standards.
One-hundred-ten seats were
at stake with 78 opposition candidates appearing on the ballot. But
when the final tally was counted, not a single candidate opposed to
president Lukashenko won a seat.
Russia, Belarus' staunchest ally, defended the election results while criticizing the OSCE assessment.
Legvold from Columbia University, says Mr. Lukashenko is very much
dependent on Russia.
"He is dependent on it economically," he said. "He
is dependent on it for political and diplomatic support. Each time he
holds an election that is not recognized on the outside, the Russians
sign off on it. He knows that and indeed the opposition in Belarus
knows that in the long-run, the relationship with Russia remains close.
analysts such as Legvold see cracks emerging in the Minsk-Moscow
"There have been frictions over energy because he sees
the Russians as having been heavy-handed," he said. "The most recent
episode of that was last fall, when [Russia's state gas monopoly]
Gazprom threatened to cut gas deliveries by half, if the Belarussians
did not pay the debt that that they have accumulated for the last six
months supply about half a billion dollars. And he was forced to pay
In addition, Russia has increased energy prices for
Belarus as it has done for other customers, such as Ukraine. Moscow
says it wants to end subsidized gas prices and gradually bring them to
world market levels.
David Marples from the University of
Edmonton in Alberta, Canada says Belarus is trying to become less
dependent on Russia for its energy supplies but that will take time.
has announced the development of its own nuclear power station over the
past year, in an effort to offset reliance on Russia for imports of
energy," he said. "It is a long term solution and nothing is likely to
be operational until 2017 and even that might be an optimistic
prognosis. But in the long term, you can tell that Lukashenko would
like to be more independent of Russia and have more freedom of
Analysts point to another source of disagreement
between Moscow and Minsk and that is Mr. Lukashenko's reaction to
Russia's brief war with Georgia in August over the separatist regions
of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
"Belarus was facing a situation
where Russia was putting intense pressure on it to support its moves
against Georgia," said David Marples. "And Belarus, for whatever reason
- it is hard to read Lukashenko's mind - not only did not really
support this campaign of Russia, but it has not recognized South
Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states - despite Russia not only
wanting Belarus to do this, but even announcing that Belarus was about
to do this."
"So in that respect, Lukashenko defied Russia and
I think this kind of symbolizes his ongoing disputes with prime
minister [Vladimir] Putin and also suggests that his relationship with
[president Dmitri] Medvedev is not very good either," he added.
say frictions between Minsk and Moscow could eventually pave the way
for better relations between Belarus and the West, especially the
European Union. Experts point out that president Lukashenko has taken
positive steps this year, such as gradually releasing all political
prisoners, including former presidential candidate Alexander Kozulin -
a key demand from the West.
But analysts also say Mr.
Lukashenko must take other important steps such as allowing free and
fair elections before serious discussions with the West can take
place. And they say Mr. Lukashenko must be very careful not to take
steps that would alienate Russia, which still remains Belarus' closest