06MOSCOW3035, AFTER THE ELECTION: MOSCOW VIEWS ON BELARUS AND

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
06MOSCOW3035 2006-03-27 05:52 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Moscow

VZCZCXRO2123
PP RUEHDBU
DE RUEHMO #3035/01 0860552
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 270552Z MAR 06
FM AMEMBASSY MOSCOW
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 2952
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 003035 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/24/2016 
TAGS: PREL PGOV BO RS
SUBJECT: AFTER THE ELECTION: MOSCOW VIEWS ON BELARUS AND 
LUKASHENKO 
 
REF: A. MOSCOW 2760 
 
     B. MOSCOW 1934 
     C. MOSCOW 1171 
 
Classified By: Ambassador William J. Burns.  Reasons: 1.4(B/D). 
 
1. (C)  Summary.  Russia's embrace of President Lukashenko's 
victory in the March 19 Belarus election reflects official 
Moscow's strong preference for stability in Minsk and its 
belief that the status quo offers the best chance for that 
stability.  Contacts close to the Belarusian opposition in 
Moscow say they are searching to find some positive notes in 
the results, while media criticism of the sham election has 
been muted.  Moscow's political analysts were not surprised 
by Lukashenko's victory, citing his strong popular support 
and control of the system.  Our contacts expect that the 
Kremlin (through Gazprom) will soon renew its bid for 
Beltransgaz and raise the price for Russian gas deliveries to 
Belarus.  Negotiations over the Russian-Belarusian Union 
State will continue to limp along, remaining a low priority 
for the Kremlin in the near term.  As the U.S. and EU 
coordinate targeted measures against Belarusian officials, we 
should both reinforce our concerns to Moscow and probe for 
signs of willingness to discuss future political development 
in Belarus.  End Summary. 
 
Official Moscow Welcomes Lukashenko's Victory 
--------------------------------------------- 
 
2. (SBU)  Reflecting its strong preference for stability in 
Belarus and its belief that Lukashenko -- for all his 
acknowledged downsides -- provides the best short-term basis 
for such stability, the Russian government welcomed 
Lukashenko's victory in the March 19 elections.  President 
Putin's March 20 congratulatory telegram to Lukashenko said 
the election results reflected voters' trust in his 
leadership, and Putin looked forward to "joint efforts" to 
build the Union State and ensure "the onward democratic 
development" of Russia and Belarus.  A March 20 MFA statement 
declared Belarus' presidential election "legitimate" and 
consistent with recognized norms (ref A).  Duma leaders such 
as Communist Party leader Gennadiy Zyuganov and United 
Russia's Valeriy Ryazanskiy attributed Lukashenko's huge 
margin of victory to genuine popularity.  Union State 
Secretary Pavel Borodin said the election reflected the will 
 
SIPDIS 
of the Belarusian people and should be respected.  LDPR 
leader Vladimir Zhirinovskiy expressed satisfaction there 
would be "no change for the worse" in Belarus. 
 
3. (C)  Reflecting a widely held view, Security Council 
Secretary Igor Ivanov told the Ambassador March 23 that he 
 
SIPDIS 
did not see why the U.S. was so "spun up" over Belarus, a 
small country that is living in peace with its neighbors. 
Lukashenko threatened no one and did not harbor terrorists or 
proliferate WMD.  Putin's Foreign Policy Assistant Sergey 
Prikhodko took a similar line on March 24, saying that 
Lukashenko -- who at least is able to control Belarus' 
borders -- is less of a threat than Georgia's President 
Saakashvili.  He dismissed the suggestion that Lukashenko was 
engaged in illicit arms exports, saying he had seen no 
evidence to that effect.  In a March 23 discussion, Council 
on Foreign and Defense Policy head Sergey Karaganov (no 
friend of Lukashenko, who he said has identified Karaganov to 
Putin as his "enemy number one" in Russia) also compared 
Lukashenko favorably to Saakashvili, describing both as 
talented demagogues without any genuine democratic commitment 
but saying that Lukashenko was more effective in running his 
country and economy.  Karaganov also dismissed Milinkevich as 
an intelligent and good man, but not a plausible leader. 
 
4. (C)  MFA Belarus Desk Senior Counselor Marat Pavlov -- 
fresh from Minsk as an election observer -- elaborated on 
similar themes, telling us the Belarusians had good access to 
media in making electoral decisions and denying the GOB had 
arrested opposition campaign figures inappropriately: they 
merely "detained some hooligans."  Accounting for 
Lukashenko's popularity, Pavlov referred to the Belarusian 
public's "statist" mentality, the government's reliable 
payment of wages, and a decent standard of living -- better 
on average, he said, than in many Russian provinces.  Pavlov 
argued that isolating Belarus politically would not help 
Minsk to democratize.  While the GOR has not publicly reacted 
to Western criticism of the election, we were told an MFA 
response was in the works. 
 
Opposition Finds Silver Lining . . . 
------------------------------------ 
 
5. (C)  ORT television's Pavel Sheremet, who maintains close 
contact with Belarusian human rights activists, characterized 
the opposition's mood as one of "mixed feelings."  They had 
 
MOSCOW 00003035  002 OF 003 
 
 
made a decent showing despite the lop-sided official results. 
 He described a "critical mass" of Belarusians who knew the 
results were fixed, but pointed to Lukashenko's tight control 
over security forces, the absence of free media, and the &#x00
0A;elite's lack of backbone as reasons why there would be no 
popular uprising.  He concluded that Lukashenko would be 
unbothered by any Western tongue-lashing that was not backed 
up with action.  Sheremet called for targeted sanctions 
against a broad range of Belarusian government officials. 
 
. . . While Media Criticism Muted 
--------------------------------- 
 
6. (C)  By week's end Moscow's talking heads were still 
mostly quiet about an election that had turned out generally 
as they had expected.  Yuriy Levada, Director of the 
well-respected All-Russian Center for the Study of Public 
Opinion A (VTsIOM-A), told us it was as though the election 
had taken place somewhere far away, like Portugal. 
International Security Center Director Aleksey Arbatov was 
nearly alone in labeling the election "probably rigged" in a 
recent Nezavisimaya Gazeta article and asserting that "most 
ballot papers were faked."  Even his criticism was tempered 
by the belief that Lukashenko would have won without 
resorting to Soviet-style tactics, e.g., early unmonitored 
voting or the absurd 93 percent voter turnout.  A Vremya 
Novostey article on March 22 cited polling data from Levada's 
Center to indicate Lukashenko was genuinely popular (though 
the regime obviously used administrative resources 
excessively) and noted that only one-fifth of the population 
really shared the opposition's viewpoint. 
 
Now to Business 
--------------- 
 
7. (C)  Few people we spoke to doubted that, with the 
elections out of the way, Russia will turn to enhancing its 
control over the Belarusian energy sector.  First up is 
likely to be a Gazprom bid for Beltransgaz reinforced by the 
credible threat of higher -- maybe significantly higher -- 
prices for Russian gas.  State Duma CIS Committee Chairman 
Andrey Kokoshin confirmed that view in a March 23 meeting 
with the Ambassador.  Kokoshin said gas discussions with 
Belarus are now a priority, since Putin had laid down that 
marker in discussions with Lukashenko, but he expected a 
"move" rather than a "leap" in gas prices.  Some have even 
suggested that behind Russia's strategic support for 
Lukashenko lay the simple calculus that it would be less 
complicated to negotiate and implement a gas deal with an 
embattled autocrat (the devil Putin knows) than a gaggle of 
competing interests as in Ukraine.  Karaganov also said he 
expected early action on the energy front, and said it will 
be interesting to see whose economic interests are served by 
any agreement that can be reached. 
 
8. (C)  Sheremet, referring to a Gazprom insider he knows, 
said the company intends to renew its bid for Beltransgaz in 
earnest the week of March 26 (while Ukraine's parliamentary 
election attracts most of the media coverage in the CIS). 
Reportedly, the contract is already drawn up and Belarus will 
be required to pay $70/thousand cubic meters (tcm) for 
Russian gas if a Beltransgaz deal goes through or 
$100-120/tcm if the two sides do not reach an agreement. 
Vedmosti's CIS correspondent Vasiliy Kashin said Russia would 
aim to conclude the acquisition and raise its gas prices by 
the end of the year, offering loans to offset the price 
increases.  Carnegie's Petrov believed Lukashenko will 
somehow delay the Beltransgaz negotiations, as he has done in 
the past, and ultimately outfox Putin. 
 
Union State -- Going Nowhere Fast? 
---------------------------------- 
 
9. (C)  No analysts we have spoken to in the last six months, 
including after the election, think a Union State treaty will 
soon be signed.  RAO UES Chairman and former Presidential 
Administration chief Aleksandr Voloshin told the Ambassador 
March 22 that Putin and Lukashenko strongly mistrust each 
other, and that will stall progress on the Union State for 
the foreseeable future.  Even the MFA's Belarus Desk has 
consistently been pessimistic on the near-term prospect for a 
Union State treaty.  Most observers seem to have concluded 
that Russian decisionmakers judge that the Union State would 
bring little immediate gain while raising the hackles of the 
West.  It would thus be better to put the Union on the 
back-burner while chasing more immediately lucrative goals, 
like enhanced control over Belarus' energy sector.  The GOR 
thus seems content to let Union State negotiations meander on 
at the working level and to measure success by signing 
agreements on tax and customs harmonization, health care 
benefits, and other workaday issues.  Karaganov also 
 
MOSCOW 00003035  003 OF 003 
 
 
dismissed the prospect of rapid forward movement on union, 
saying he expected things in that area in 2011 to be much 
like they are in 2006 and were in 2001. 
 
10. (C)  Strong fears of Lukashenko's demagogic appeal and 
political ambitions in Russia are another reason why Russian 
observers do not think the union will move quickly.  Liberal 
radio station Ekho Moskvy conducted a poll of Moscow 
listeners on March 21 asking, "Who would you vote for to be 
President of the Russian-Belarusian Union State?"  Of the 
nearly 6000 listeners who called in, 82 percent voted for 
Lukashenko and only 18 percent for Putin.  Internet voting on 
the same question was less lopsided -- 39 percent chose 
Lukashenko, 29 percent liked Putin, and 32 percent were 
undecided.  While calling Lukashenko's chances for the Union 
State presidency "improbable," Carnegie's Petrov noted the 
Belarusian president has a real following in Russia, 
especially among ordinary Russians in the provinces and with 
regional governors -- a view we have often heard before (ref 
C).  Voloshin concluded that Lukashenko's well-known 
political aspirations in Russia would serve as a brake on any 
movement toward union, with talk continuing to substitute for 
movement. 
 
Comment:  Engaging Russia on Belarus 
------------------------------------ 
 
11. (C)  We have made clear to the GOR over the last six 
months that it would be better if the U.S. and Russia were 
not on opposite sides in responding to the election results 
(especially in light of the approaching G-8 summit) and that 
we had hoped the GOR would assess the election on its 
democratic merits.  That has not happened so far.  While 
Russia may have encouraged Lukashenko to avoid violence 
against the protesters or to provide a circumscribed space 
for opposition views (DFM Karasin has told the Ambassador 
that the GOR did make clear to Lukashenko that restraint was 
important), in the end Moscow opted for Lukashenko in the 
belief that any alternative would be worse in terms of 
Russian interests. 
 
12. (C)  While our assessments of the election are thus at 
odds, there are two important grounds to continue engaging 
Moscow on Belarus.  First, as we and the EU formulate a 
coordinated response targeted against Belarusian officials 
involved in election fraud and human rights abuses, we should 
make clear to Moscow why we are imposing sanctions and 

request that Russia not take steps to undercut these 
measures, particularly financial sanctions.  We have already 
heard from our German colleagues that DFM Karasin has said he 
would be interested in engaging with the EU and U.S. on next 
steps in Belarus, which is consistent with our discussions 
with him. 
 
13. (C)  More broadly, we need to probe Russia's willingness 
to discuss Belarus in the post-election period.  Karasin told 
U/S Burns in a February 20 meeting that the Russian 
government was convinced Lukashenko would have no alternative 
but to pursue greater openness after the election and that 
Belarus would be a prosperous state with a pluralistic 
political system in five to six years.  While that statement 
is impossible to take at face value, it offers us an opening 
to push the Russian government to spell out exactly what 
objective steps would lead to this end-state.  By pressing 
Moscow to define what metrics it would use to measure this 
development -- on civil liberties, press and academic freedom 
and associational independence -- we would seek some common 
ground in discussing developments in Belarus and the wider 
CIS. 
 
14. (C)  Any dialogue that we have on Belarus will inevitably 
be affected, however, by other issues.  Karaganov said he was 
in particular certain that if Ukraine is put on a fast-track 
to NATO membership this year, there will be no GOR readiness 
to look for possible areas of overlapping interests in 
Belarus.  That consideration may in any case serve as a 
pretext on the Russian side for taking a hardline in any 
consultations on Belarus until Moscow has a clearer sense of 
the broader context of its dealings with the U.S. and Europe. 
BURNS

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