Sochi. A good six months after the protests began in Belarus, the ruler Alexander Lukashenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin have emphasized the close cooperation between the two countries. “Not a day goes by when our colleagues do not talk to each other and solve certain problems,” said the Kremlin chief at a meeting in the Russian city of Sochi, which was shown in excerpts on state television. Lukashenko called his colleague someone “close to him”. After an hour-long conversation, the two heads of state went skiing together.
Putin announced further deliveries of the Russian corona vaccine Sputnik V to Belarus. “We have to combine our efforts, including with our European colleagues,” he said. According to Lukashenko, his country wants to develop its own vaccine by autumn.
The last time the two heads of state met in September, also in Sochi. Putin promised the financially troubled neighboring country a billion-euro loan. Now the Kremlin chief has said that cooperation between the two countries’ industries is more important than “direct financial support.”
Belarus’ economy is heavily dependent on Russia, which supplies oil and gas, for example. Moscow also sees its neighbors and allies as a strategically important buffer zone to NATO.
Opposition leader: “Failed for the time being”
After the presidential election on August 9, which is widely regarded as falsified, mass protests broke out in Belarus. Recently, however, there were only a few campaigns. After 26 years in power, Lukashenko had himself confirmed for a sixth term with 80.1 percent of the vote. The EU no longer recognizes him as president and has already imposed sanctions on the authoritarian leadership. Russia repeatedly urged Lukashenko to reform the constitution.
At least in the part of the talks broadcast on state television, that was not an issue. Observers had expected Putin to address the trial of the first prominent opposition activist imprisoned in Belarus at the meeting. Viktor Babariko was the head of the subsidiary of the Russian Gazprombank in Belarus. He wanted to run against Lukashenko in the election, but was arrested.
Meanwhile, opposition leader Svetlana Tichanovskaya had to admit that the protest on the streets had failed. “We do not have the means to counter the violence of the regime against the demonstrators,” she said. The government around Lukashenko has arms and power in hand. “Yeah, it looks like we’ve lost at the moment,” she said. But Lukashenko’s opponents do not want to give up, they hope for renewed momentum in the spring. Tichanovskaya stressed that the opposition was in the process of building structures for the next struggles.