For Belarus’ leadership, further integration with Russia risks backlash at home

Activists in Belarus will today take to the streets of the capital Minsk to protest further integration with Russia. Simultaneously,

anti russia protests belarus

Photo: S Gritis/AP

Activists in Belarus will today take to the streets of the capital Minsk to protest further integration with Russia. Simultaneously, President Alexander Lukashenko is holding talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the issue in St Petersburg.

Belarus’ economy relies heavily on cheap Russian gas and oil. Moscow has recently raised energy prices in an attempt to draw Minsk into a political union and away from trade ties with the EU. It has also been speculated that Putin could use integration with Belarus to legitimise another term in office.

Lukashenko, on the other hand, insists on maintaining Belarus’ political sovereignty, and, in turn, continuing his 25-year presidency. Minsk allowed unauthorised anti-Russia protests to unfold this month, demonstrating disapproval of Moscow’s creeping influence in the country.

The outcome of Lukashenko’s meeting with Putin this weekend will likely include increased economic ties, but not a fully-fledged integration plan. Today’s protests will remind Belarus’ leadership that political compromises used to maintain favourable economic conditions with its large eastern neighbour risk inciting popular backlash at home.

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