Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 164

From September 3 through 5, Belarusan President Alyaksandr Lukashenka paid an official visit to Cuba during which he described that country’s ruler Fidel Castro as a world statesman and a political model to emulate. Lukashenka, furthermore, noted “the similarity between the positions of Belarus and Cuba on the international scene,” with both governments struggling to overcome “isolation.” “Belarus has for years supported Cuba at the international level on the issue of human rights,” Lukashenka observed.

In his capacity as nominal head of the Russia-Belarus Union state, Lukashenka stated that the former Soviet Union and its successors, Russia and Belarus, “are deeply indebted to Cuba–morally, politically and perhaps also economically.” The former Soviet republics, Lukashenka went on, had “no moral right to let Cuba fend for herself” following the dissolution of the Soviet Union. He implied that his visit, and the upcoming one of Russian President Vladimir Putin, are meant to begin restoring the old ties.

That none-too-cryptic reference to Cuba’s role as a strategic ally of the former Soviet Union probably reflected the content of Lukashenka’s four-hour “political conversation” one-on-one with Castro. Lukashenka would no doubt cheer a renewal of the Moscow-Havana alliance. Castro for his part hailed the formation of the Russia-Belarus Union. “I have never yet experienced such strong support as that expressed by Fidel Castro for the union. [Castro’s] interest in the development of the Russia-Belarus Union is as strong as was his interest in the preservation of the Soviet Union,” the Belarusan president said.

Lukashenka called for the formation of a three-tiered force to oppose “world monopolarity”–that is, the United States and NATO. In his vision, the core of that force should be a centralized Russian state, with “Putin capable of bringing Russia’s internal system under control.” Belarus and such ex-Soviet republics as might join the bloc, as well as Cuba, would form a second tier. China could form the third tier and “restore the [world] balance.”

Belarusan and Cuban officials signed a treaty on economic cooperation and trade, envisaging mainly barter exchanges of their traditional export goods: Cuban raw sugar for Belarusan agricultural machinery and fertilizers. That, too, would represent a throwback to the Cuban-Soviet economic relations. The two presidents’ notion that Cuba can serve as a “springboard” for Belarusan goods in the Americas, and Belarus can perform a similar function for Cuban products in Europe, seems far-fetched. The centerpiece of Lukashenka’s visit is–on paper at least–a treaty on friendship and cooperation. It envisages consultations on foreign policy and reciprocal support in international organizations. And it includes a brief reference to cooperation in the military sphere, probably reflecting Minsk’s readiness to provide spare parts and maintenance services for Cuba’s Soviet-made weaponry.

Coincidentally, Li Peng, now chairman of the Permanent Committee of the All-China Assembly of People’s Representatives [Chinese legislature], arrived in Minsk yesterday on an official visit. China’s Vice-President Hu Jintao visited Belarus in July, following Lukashenka’s official visit to China for discussions with President Jiang Zemin on “multipolarity.” During the course of this year, Lukashenka and other Belarusan senior officials also paid visits to, or received delegations from, such pariah states as Iraq, Libya and North Korea. Lukashenka seeks political sympathies and markets for the Soviet-era industry of Belarus, including the military industry. But beyond such practical considerations, Lukashenka increasingly evidences an eagerness to play at global diplomacy. He had hoped to fulfill that ambition to the maximum extent by succeeding Boris Yeltsin in the Kremlin as head of a union state. Putin’s rise, however, has reduced Lukashenka’s international role to that of Moscow’s adjunct (Itar-Tass, Belarusan Television, Minsk Radio, Xinhua, September 4-5).

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