Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 214

A grumbling but loyal ally, President Alyaksandr Lukashenka of Belarus is quietly collecting his rewards from the Kremlin. Russian President Vladimir Putin seems clearly more willing than his predecessor Boris Yeltsin to reward Lukashenka. Some of Putin’s latest favors may even be stretching the ability of an impoverished Russia to deliver.

Yesterday in Moscow, Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov announced a decision to grant Belarus a US$100 million credit on soft terms for the stabilization of the Belarusan ruble and for balance-of-payments support. The credit’s first tranche of US$30 million is to be disbursed as early as next month.

Moscow’s move is correlated with Lukashenka’s electoral promises in Belarus. Both during the campaign and, especially, after his embarrassing setback in the last month’s parliamentary elections, Lukashenka ordered salaries to be raised, food prices and utility tariffs to be frozen, and currency to be printed at an accelerated rate. The Russian loan seems intended to help Lukashenka ride the inflationary wave he has unleashed and to postpone reforms in Belarus.

Also yesterday, the management of the state gas company Beltransgaz announced that Belarus is currently paying only half as much as other CIS member countries for imported Russian gas. According to Beltransgaz General Director Pyotr Pyatukh, the Gazprom company supplies the gas for only US$30 per 1,000 cubic meters. At the same time, and within the same geographic zone, Gazprom charges Ukraine and Moldova between US$60 and US$80 per thousand cubic meters. Gazprom and the Russian government behind it seem easily tolerant of Belarus’ arrears. Those are inching steadily upward and are now close to the US$300 million mark.

Russia’s intelligence agencies are also propping Lukashenka. When the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) Director, Lieutenant-General Sergei Lebedev, paid a “working visit” to Minsk last week, Lukashenka publicly thanked the SVR and its sister agency, the Federal Security Service (FSB), for sharing intelligence information “on a regular basis” with him personally and with the Belarusan KGB. The latter carries on the name of the agency from which these three services stem. “After the Soviet Union dissolved, the special services stayed together,” Lukashenka remarked in receiving Lebedev. He went on to thank Russian intelligence for “invaluable assistance in overcoming various problems”–an oblique reference to Lukashenka’s internal and international political difficulties.

In Minsk yesterday, the regime’s chief censor was picked to head a newly established CIS committee on the press and book publishing. The committee held its inaugural meeting at the Minsk headquarters of CIS under the chairmanship of the CIS Executive Committee’s first deputy chairman, Dmitry Bulakhov. At Russia’s initiative the chairman of the Belarus State Committee for the Press, Mikhail Padhainy, became the first chairman of the CIS Interstate Cooperation Committee for the Periodical Press and Book Publishing and Trade. Padhainy is well known in Belarus for his vigilant supervision of the state-owned press and for harassing the few opposition publications that survive on the margins of a Soviet-like media landscape (RIA, Itar-Tass, November 9, 14; Belapan, Belarusan TV, November 10, 14; see the Monitor, September 1, 6, 27, October 17, November 1, 8).