Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 145

Presidents Vladimir Putin of Russia, Leonid Kuchma of Ukraine and Alyaksandr Lukashenka of Belarus met on July 25-26 in Vitsyabsk, Belarus (Russian name: Vitebsk) for the “Slavic Bazaar” Cultural Festival. A routine annual event, the festival celebrated its tenth anniversary this year and added a new, avowedly political feature, which is meant to become permanent: the Russian-Ukrainian-Belarusan summit. It took the form this year of no-necktie, bilateral and trilateral discussions among the presidents.

Putin’s amply televised appearance alongside Lukashenka appeared calculated to signal support for the latter’s reelection in the September presidential balloting. Putin’s top foreign policy aide, Sergei Prikhodko, declared that Lukashenka informed Putin “about the political and economic situation in Belarus as the election approaches.” On July 25, Russia’s Central Bank announced the release to Belarus of the first tranche, worth 1.5 billion rubles (some US$51 million), out of a 4.5 billion stabilization credit (some US$153 million). The next tranche, also of 1.5 billion rubles, is scheduled to be released in September–the election month. The credit’s officially declared purpose is to support the Belarusan ruble, which Lukashenka prints at an accelerating rate in order to pay salaries ahead of the election. Russia had approved this credit last November, but waited until this politically sensitive time before disbursing it.

With parliamentary elections approaching in Ukraine, Kuchma will also soon need at least the benevolent neutrality of Moscow for a good showing of the parties he favors. As in previous similar situations, the Ukrainian president is holding out symbolic concessions to the Kremlin. He proposed to Putin that they jointly attend the Russian Navy Day upcoming celebrations in Sevastopol, Ukraine and jointly inaugurate the renovated Russian Orthodox St. Vladimir Cathedral in Kherson, Ukraine. While paying effusive lip service to Russian-Ukrainian relations and his personal relationship with Putin, Kuchma withheld anything that Lukashenka could have used in the way of a political endorsement.

In Moscow at the same time, the Public Opinion Foundation released the findings of a survey just conducted in Russia on the subject of Slavic identification. Only 75 percent of the sample ventured a response. Of those, 28 percent equated “Slavic” with “Russian.” Only 16 percent defined Ukrainians and Belarusans as Slavs. For 8 percent, Slavic is equal to “Orthodox.” The remaining respondents offered even more uncertain or confused answers (Itar-Tass, Belarus Television, UNIAN, July 25-26; see the Monitor, April 6, June 8).