07MOSCOW4315, MFA ON “SIGNIFICANT” SHIFT IN RUSSIA-BELARUS

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
07MOSCOW4315 2007-09-04 11:43 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Moscow

VZCZCXRO7381
PP RUEHDBU
DE RUEHMO #4315/01 2471143
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 041143Z SEP 07
FM AMEMBASSY MOSCOW
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 3493
INFO RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHZG/NATO EU COLLECTIVE PRIORITY

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 MOSCOW 004315 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/03/2017 
TAGS: PREL PINR MNUC BO RU
SUBJECT: MFA ON "SIGNIFICANT" SHIFT IN RUSSIA-BELARUS 
RELATIONS 
 
REF: MOSCOW 4284 
 
 1.  (C) Summary: Newly installed MFA Belarus Section Chief 
Nikita Matkovskiy told us that since Russia began to "put in 
order" its relations with Belarus in 2006, Russia has 
observed "serious but necessary" changes in the behavior of 
the Lukashenko regime.  Matkovskiy underscored Russia's 
determination to force the Lukashenko regime to honor its 
contractual commitments to Russia, noting that Lukashenko 
will no longer be able to turn to the Kremlin to delay or 
reduce those commitments.  However, Matkovskiy was equally 
clear in his comments on Russia's continued interest in 
maintaining a "special relationship" with the Lukashenko 
regime and on Russia's evolutionary (as opposed to 
revolutionary) approach to Belarus.  Matkovskiy dismissed 
alleged statements from the Russian ambassador in Belarus 
about Russian nuclear weapons being deployed to Belarus as a 
"misinterpretation."  End Summary. 
 
There Is A Special Relationship, But... 
--------------------------------------- 
 
2.  (C) On August 31, new MFA Belarus Section Chief Nikita 
Matkovskiy told us in unequivocal terms that Russia and 
Belarus will always have a "special and intense" 
relationship.  He noted that despite the increase in energy 
prices and a "market-based approach" to trade relations, 
Belarus still enjoys unique privileges and access to the 
Russian market.  However, Matkovskiy pointed out that 
beginning in 2006 Russia initiated "a significant 
transformation" of its bilateral relationship with Belarus 
and "remains committed to the new course." 
 
3.  (C) Matkovskiy explained that for years Belarus failed to 
honor "its political and contractual obligations" to Russia, 
while Russia "faithfully" upheld its end of the bargain.  In 
Spring 2006 the decision was made to "put in order" its 
relations with Belarus and, "whether it liked it or not," 
wean the country off of Russian largesse.  Matkovskiy 
stressed that Russia's new approach to Belarus is gradual and 
not aimed at causing economic or political instability. 
Rather, Russia believes it is "helping" Belarus slowly 
integrate into the global economy. 
 
Tough Love Part of the New "Modus Operandi" 
------------------------------------------- 
 
4.  (C) When asked to what extent Russia was prepared to 
watch the Lukashenko regime suffer under the pressure of 
higher energy payments, Matkovskiy noted that Belarus is 
currently facing a serious budget crunch and depletion in its 
currency reserves, and yet there are no GOR plans to bail 
Lukashenko out.  He cited as an example of the "new modus 
operandi" Lukashenko's attempts to postpone or reduce 
Belarus' payment to Gazprom for gas received in the first 
half of 2007.  Matkovskiy revealed that Lukashenko sought a 
private meeting with Putin in this regard, but Lukashenko was 
told to direct his grievances to the leadership of Gazprom, 
underscoring that the dispute was an exclusive concern of the 
"involved economic entities" (Gazprom and Belarusian gas 
monopoly Beltransgaz).  In the end, Matkovskiy claimed 
Lukashenko was forced to pay Gazprom from his presidential 
stabilization fund. 
 
Economic Reform Is Inevitable, Maybe Even Political Reform? 
--------------------------------------------- -------------- 
 
5.  (C) Matkovskiy argued that the new terms of agreement 
between Russia and Belarus should serve as sufficient 
incentive for the latter to undertake economic reforms. 
According to Matkovskiy, Belarus recently sold its large 
mobile telephone company, Velcom, to a Cypriot company in a 
secret and last-minute deal worth USD 700 million. 
 
SIPDIS 
Apparently, Belarus had to complete the deal quickly to help 
avoid a collapse in the currency market.  Matkovskiy stated 
that the absence of a tender or open competition prior to the 
sale is not the way modern governments conduct business, but 
at least the GOB understands that tough choices will have to 
be made if it is to adapt to Russia's new terms of agreement. 
 
 
6.  (C) Matkovskiy noted that economic reform in Belarus 
could even lead to political reform.  When asked about the 
type of political reform Russia envisioned for Belarus, 
Matkovskiy restricted his comments to vague references of how 
inevitable economic reform could have a positive impact on 
Belarus' "atypical human rights situation and legislative 
system." 
 
Personal Relationship Between Presidents 
---------------------------------------- 
 
MOSCOW 00004315  002 OF 002 
 
 
 
7.  (C) On Putin's personal relationship with Lukashenko, 
Matkovskiy was quick to deny there was mutual animosity. 
However, he conceded that there have been no 
presidential-level meetings in 2007 (outside of brief 
encounters in multilateral fora), in contrast to five such 
meetings in 2006.  Matkovskiy offered as possible 
explanations for the sharp reduction in personal contact the 
lack of urgency for these meetings and Putin's de
cision not 
to engage Lukashenko on purely economic issues.  Prior to 
2007, Matkovskiy explained, most of the discussions between 
Putin and Lukashenko focused on Russia's economic support of 
Belarus - "not anymore."  Matkovskiy added that Belarus and 
Russia are strategic partners for a variety of reasons, but 
not because of a close relationship between Putin and 
Lukashenko. 
 
Russian Ambassador Surikov's Remarks "Taken Out of Context" 
--------------------------------------------- -------------- 
 
8.  (C) Matkovskiy categorically denied that Russia is 
considering deploying part of its nuclear arsenal to Belarus, 
stressing that such a step is fundamentally at odds with the 
GOR position that a country's nuclear weapons should remain 
on its own territory.  (Note: FM Lavrov made similar 
statements in an August 29 meeting with Senator Lugar.  See 
reftel. End note.)  Matkovskiy maintained that after the MFA 
examined the transcript of the interview, it was determined 
that Russian Ambassador to Belarus Surikov was misquoted and 
"is not in any danger of disciplinary action." 
Comment 
------- 
 
9.  (C) Like most of our MFA contacts, Matkovskiy went to 
great lengths to accentuate the positive aspects of 
Russian-Belarusian relations, but he was unusually open about 
Russia's frustrations with and plans for the Lukashenko 
regime.  It could be that Matkovskiy, who has been on the job 
for only a few weeks, is too new to know any better. 
However, Russia's undoubtedly tougher handling of Belarus 
this year is consistent with the GOR's general approach in 
the former Soviet space to elevate market relations above 
past historical and political ties.  That said, we have yet 
to see any indications of Russian interest in removing 
Lukashenko, which it believes is tantamount to fomenting 
political instability in a key transit state for Russian 
energy supplies to the West.  Stability in neighboring states 
continues to play a decisive role in Russia's foreign policy, 
particularly as the Kremlin shifts more attention to 
preparing for the parliamentary and presidential elections. 
 
Burns

Wikileaks

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