Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko has described the country’s opposition as “enemies of the people” and criticized Russia for economic hindrances as he started his presidential campaign.
Many observers believe Lukashenko wanted the election to be held before the end of the year, when negotiations between the Belarusian authorities with Russia’s Gazprom usually start over the gas price.
Lukashenko made it clear he will leave no chance for the opposition to win the presidential election. “They are not opposition activists at all,” Interfax quoted Lukashenko as saying. “They are enemies of the people.”
The president was speaking at a congress of the Belarusian Trade Unions Federation in Minsk on Thursday. “Wherever there is a chance to make things worse for the government, [the opposition is] there,” he said.
He added that earlier opposition supported Europe’s and US pressure on the Belarusian leadership. “Today Russia is pressing – they are there,” Lukashenko stressed.
Russian media say some Belarusian opposition leaders rely on Russia’s help in the campaign, but they insist on equal relations between the two countries.
At the same time, they call for improving the relations that have soured in recent months. The leader of civil campaign European Belarus Andrey Sannikov has spoken in favor of neighborly and strategic partner relations with Russia.
But Sannikov, who is considered a possible candidate from the opposition in the forthcoming elections, believes Minsk’s strategic aim is accession to the European Union. “This model can and must work, which Ukraine’s experience has shown,” Interfax quoted him as saying.
Russia and Belarus should develop “neighborly relations like two independent states,” Aleksandr Milinkevich, the leader of the group “For Freedom Movement,” told the agency.
Many analysts have questioned the viability of the union state of Russia and Belarus the two countries are building with numerous difficulties.
Milinkevich also believes Minsk’s strategic goal is accession to the European Union with the preservation of the country’s neutral status.
However, Milinkevich has said he will not run for president, citing election legislation as the main reason. He was united opposition candidate during the 2005 presidential election.
“Lukashenko called his political opponents enemies of the people back in 1996, when he was not regarded as a leader preferring an authoritarian style,” Interfax said. “Now this label sounds as usual and ordinary. But observers believe that on the eve of the presidential campaign it can be considered as a warning signal to his most active competitors in the race for presidency.”
He was “especially outraged by intention of some opposition leaders to play the Russian card, using the current tension in the relations between the two countries,” the agency said.
Speaking at the conference of trade unions, Lukashenko also indirectly criticized Russia for “obstructing” attempts to arrange oil and gas supplies using alternative routes. The pipes are not working, but they are blocked, he said, referring to Russia’s Druzhba oil pipeline as well as Ukraine’s Odessa-Brody pipeline.
“Lukashenko yesterday actually accused Russia of blocking his attempts to get oil and gas from third countries,” Kommersant daily said. Minsk could receive oil from Venezuela via Lithuanian and Latvian ports, the paper noted.
“Analysts are certain that Lukashenko thus started his presidential campaign which will be built on criticism of Moscow,” the daily said.
“Prior to this Lukashenko said that he did not need an election campaign,” it noted. Two days after parliament set the date of the presidential election, the Belarusian president “indirectly criticized the Kremlin,” it added.
Lukashenko’s address was devoted to politics rather than economics, Belarusian political scientist Leonid Zaiko said. “He has started his campaign, and, as was expected, Moscow will be used as a scarecrow,” he told the daily.
“Another presidential campaign in Belarus will not be like all the previous ones,” believes Fedor Lukyanov, editor-in-chief of Russia in Global Affairs magazine. “For the first time, Lukashenko will solve the issue of power facing Moscow’s opposition,” he wrote in Gazeta.ru online newspaper.
At the same time, Lukashenko, “as before, does not have any more or less serious rival,” the analyst said. “So, in case he succeeds, which is very likely, Russia will have to make a difficult choice – to build relations anew, in fact, recognizing Lukashenko’s victory in the long psychological war, or to stake everything, not recognizing the legitimacy of the elections and authority of the Belarusian leader.”
The decisive fight may start after the election and Russia will try to increase economic pressure, Lukyanov believes. “Probably, by securing five more years in power, Lukashenko will be more compliant, although the level of personal enmity between him and the Russian leaders seems to have reached the highest point.” These relations are unlikely to become friendlier after the elections, the analyst said.
Sergey Borisov,Russian Opinion and Analysis Review, RT