06MOSCOW1171, RUSSIA COMFORTABLE WITH STATUS QUO IN BELARUS

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
06MOSCOW1171 2006-02-08 08:53 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Moscow

VZCZCXRO9552
PP RUEHDBU
DE RUEHMO #1171/01 0390853
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 080853Z FEB 06
FM AMEMBASSY MOSCOW
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 0343
INFO RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHXD/MOSCOW POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 MOSCOW 001171 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/01/2016 
TAGS: PREL PGOV PINR BO RS
SUBJECT: RUSSIA COMFORTABLE WITH STATUS QUO IN BELARUS 
(C-RE5-01635) 
 
REF: A. MOSCOW 548 
     B. 05 MOSCOW 15342 
 
Classified By: A/POL Bruce Donahue.  Reasons: 1.4(B/D). 
 
1. (C)  Summary:  The MFA's official stance on Belarus seems 
to have shifted from resigned noninterference to passive 
support for Lukashenko and the status quo.  However, Russian 
activists and leaders of the Belarusian opposition based in 
Moscow have not given up hope that determined resistance will 
eventually produce results.  Participants in the Janaury 30 
meeting of the Russian-Belarusian Human Rights Commission 
conceded that Lukashenko will win the March 19 election, but 
believe it is time to begin developing a cogent post-election 
strategy.  On February 6 Belarusian opposition candidates 
Milinkevich and Kozulin visited Moscow for talks with Russian 
opinion-makers.  While Russia walks a careful political line 
between support for the Belarusian status quo and frustration 
with Lukashenko, its economic goals seem clear: the Kremlin 
wants increased control over Beltransgaz and eventually 
monetary union.  End Summary. 
 
No News on Putin-Lukashenko Meeting 
----------------------------------- 
 
2. (C)  Asked January 30 for a read-out of the January 24 
Putin-Lukashenko one-on-one that took place on the eve of the 
Eurasian Economic Community (EurAsEC) special plenary, MFA 
Belarus Desk Senior Counselor Igor Gurko was unable to 
provide any details, noting that only the two presidents knew 
what had been discussed.  Instead, Gurko played up the packet 
of six bilateral agreements signed by the two presidents that 
address Union State matters such as registration, taxation, 
and health care.  Without a hint of irony, Gurko 
characterized the Union State as "90 percent complete on the 
expert level."  Coverage of the Putin-Lukashenko meeting by 
the major Russian dailies was almost non-existent.  A front 
page Nezavisimaya Gazeta article on January 25, humorously 
entitled "It's Taking Some Time to Separate the Flies from 
the Meat," merely rehashed Union State issues without 
broaching the subject of the presidential meeting.  Like 
their December 15 meeting in Sochi, no one knows (or wants to 
say) what Putin and Lukashenko discussed in St. Petersburg. 
(Note: Belarus Embassy Political Counselor Leonid Sennikov 
declined to meet with us.  End Note.) 
 
GOR on Belarusian Election 
-------------------------- 
 
3. (C)  Turning to the March 19 election, Gurko underlined 
points we first heard from DFM Karasin January 18 (ref A): 
Belarus is a small country that threatens no one and will 
modernize (even democratize) at its own pace.  There is no 
chance for an Orange Revolution there, Gurko continued, given 
the outlook and character of the Belarusian people, and 
therefore taking a hard line on the Belarusian election will 
only box the West into a corner.  When Lukashenko wins the 
election, the U.S. and EU will have no alternative but to 
resort to a tougher stance toward the Lukashenko government. 
Gurko noted the current Belarusian standard of living is not 
bad and concluded that sanctions, should they be enacted 
against Minsk, would only hurt ordinary Belarusians. 
 
4. (U) Putin himself may have best outlined the GOR position 
on Belarus in his January 31 press conference.  Putin said "a 
free election is always possible" and characterized his 
contact with Lukashenko as support for the Belarusian people, 
not as support for "one political figure or another whatever 
the cost."  Putin said the GOR is pursuing "balanced" 
relations with Belarus -- including complex negotiations over 
details of the Union State -- and cast the bilateral 
relationship as historically "special," a fact, he added, 
that the West should not forget.  DPM and Minister of Defense 
Sergey Ivanov went further at the February 5 Munich 
Conference on Security Policy, asking rhetorically, "Does 
anybody in this hall doubt Lukashenko is the most popular 
candidate for president in Belarus?"  Ivanov said Lukashenko 
"will win" and called on the international community to "do 
all we can" to prevent any election-related unrest from 
turning ugly. 
 
The Russian-Belarusian Human Rights Commission 
--------------------------------------------- - 
 
5. (C)  On January 30 the little known Russian-Belarusian 
Human Rights Commission met in Moscow to discuss the 
situation in Belarus.  Co-chaired by Sergey Karaganov (member 
of the President's Council for the Development of Human 
Rights) and Valeriy Pavlov, the organization's designated 
liaison between the Belarusian democratic movement and 
Russia, the Commission's stated purpose is to safeguard human 
 
MOSCOW 00001171  002 OF 003 
 
 
rights and free speech in Russia and Belarus, according to 
its June 23 RIA Novosti press release.  ORT Special Projects 
Director Pavel Sheremet has given several interviews about 
the Commission and acts as an informal spokesman.  However, 
apart from a late December press announcement criticizing the 
GOB for its clamp-down on free
 expression, the Commission has 
worked largely behind the scenes.  Notably, while the 
Commission has ties to the Russian government and remains 
officially non-partisan, it also includes activists with 
strong anti-Lukashenko tendencies. 
 
6. (C)  In separate meetings, Pavlov and Sheremet -- both 
opponents of Lukashenko -- agreed the Belarusian president 
has a lock on the election, and the GOR will likely recognize 
a Lukashenko victory, despite any U.S. and EU claims that the 
elections were not free and fair.  They also concurred that 
the GOR perceives Milinkevich as Western-leaning and that the 
Russian elite is not backing him politically or financially. 
Notably, Sheremet indicated that Lukashenko has been spending 
"huge" sums of money to wine and dine Russian journalists, 
especially those from the regions, and that the Belarusian 
Embassy in Moscow has at least seven employees devoted to 
public affairs outreach.  (Bio Notes:  Born in Belarus, Pavel 
Sheremet served as ORT's Minsk Bureau Chief before being 
sentenced to two years for illegally crossing the Belarusian 
border in 1997.  He ultimately served three months and later 
moved to Moscow.  Valeriy Pavlov was a Major General in the 
Belarusian KGB and served a stint as Interior Minister before 
later winning a seat in the Belarusian Upper House.  Pavlov 
is now Deputy Director of the Dionis Club, a Russian 
import-export firm trading in wine and tobacco.  End Note.) 
 
7. (C)  Pavlov and Sheremet did not agree on the opposition's 
next steps.  While concerned that the Belarusian authorities 
may remove Milinkevich from the ballot (on the pretext of 
registration irregularities), Sheremet maintained that, even 
after a Lukashenko victory, Milinkevich remains the best 
figure to lead a unified opposition front and perhaps help 
the opposition make significant gains in Belarus' local 
elections this fall.  For his part, Pavlov believes that 
Milinkevich will no longer be the best candidate to lead the 
Belarusian opposition after losing the March election and 
that the U.S. and EU are wasting money in supporting him. 
Instead, Pavlov is betting that Aleksandr Kozulin, described 
as having ties to the security services, will make the best 
compromise candidate in the next (possibly early) Belarusian 
presidential election.  The Commission is already planning to 
hold a meeting in Minsk on March 20, the day after the 
presidential election. 
 
Belarusian Cultural Society 
--------------------------- 
 
8. (C)  On February 6 the Belarusian Cultural Society of 
Moscow hosted a roundtable that brought Belarusian opposition 
figures -- Aleksandr Milinkevich, Aleksandr Kozulin, Sergey 
Kalyakin, and Anatoliy Lebedev among others -- to Moscow for 
discussions with Russian opinion-makers.  Among Russian 
participants were Boris Nemtsov, Union of Right Forces (SPS) 
leader Nikita Belykh, CIS Institute Deputy Director Vladimir 
Zharikhin, RFE/RL's Vitaliy Portnikov, and several media 
correspondents. 
 
9. (C)  The Belarusian opposition's objective was to assuage 
Russian concerns.  Milinkevich called Russia a "strategic 
partner" and said Russians should view Belarus as a bridge to 
the West, not a country that could end up behind a "Western 
wall."  Milinkevich underlined that the United Opposition 
harbored no latent anti-Russian agenda, not least because an 
anti-Russian platform would never win in Belarus, but added 
that two-thirds of Belarusians want to keep their 
sovereignty.  For his part Kozulin took umbrage at the 
mention of a united opposition candidate.  While plugging 
integration with Russia, Kozulin said anti-Russian sentiment 
in Belarus is increasing and attributed this to Lukashenko's 
manipulation of the state media. 
 
10. (C)  Most of the Russian participants expressed support 
for a unified opposition, but Belykh went furthest, saying 
the Union of Right Forces was ready to support the Unified 
Opposition and work for a Milinkevich victory in March. 
Zharikhin said Lukashenko has considerable support in Russia 
and that the opposition's message got little attention. 
Nemtsov welcomed the unified opposition, lamented the growth 
of anti-Russianism on Belarusian state TV, and said it would 
not be possible to create a Union State with a dictator (who 
would never give up sovereignty).  Nemtsov also questioned 
whether the participation of the Belarusian opposition 
wouldn't give the March 19 election legitimacy.  Nearly all 
present -- from both sides of the table -- agreed that the 
election results would be falsified and that Lukashenko has 
 
MOSCOW 00001171  003 OF 003 
 
 
already designated a 70-75 percent election victory for 
himself. 
 
What the Kremlin Wants 
---------------------- 
 
11. (C)  While official Moscow is ready to accept 
Lukashenko's continued tenure in office, the Kremlin's 
economic designs in Belarus are clear.  According to 
Sheremet, Kremlin is waiting until after Lukashenko's victory 
at the polls to begin a serious bid for control of 
Beltransgaz; everything is on "stand-by" until after March 
19.  Explaining his view, Sheremet pointed to several GOR 
statements indicating that all CIS countries, including 
Belarus, would eventually have to pay market rates for 
Russian gas.  He said Belarus' current price for Russian gas 
($46/tcm) would be revisited, possibly as early as April. 
Continued low rates will depend on what further concessions 
Gazprom can squeeze out of Beltransgaz.  He added that 
Gazprom's negotiations with Beltransgaz would be timed, 
conveniently, to take place when Russian-Ukrainian relations 
are in the foreground of CIS news coverage.  Without going 
into details, Sheremet said that achieving a monetary union 
with Belarus was also an important, though secondary, goal 
for the Kremlin. 
 
Comment 
------- 
 
12. (C)  Our conversations with the MFA's Belarus desk 
officer reinforce our view (ref B) that the Foreign Ministry 
does not have the lead on policy toward Belarus.  The MFA's 
talking points on the Belarusian election, not to mention 
press comments by Putin and DPM Ivanov, hint of a stiffening 
in the GOR position.  Where before, we sensed a resigned 
acceptance of Lukashenko's reelection, now there seems to be 
some indication that -- faced with a united U.S.-EU position 
-- the GOR is beginning to defend Lukashenko and the status 
quo. 
 
13. (C)  Russia's approach to Belarus must be seen in the 
broader context of Russian policy in the region.  Lukashenko 
may at times be frustraing, but from the Russian perspective 
he is better than a Western-leaning alternative.  The GOR 
does not want the problems it faces with Ukraine and Georgia 
following their colored revolutions to spread to Belarus or 
to see in Minsk a government that might eventually seek NATO 
membership.  The recent warming of Russian-Uzbek relations is 
in
structive; those spurned by the West can still find a 
friendly face in Moscow. 
 
BURNS

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