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Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko is digging into his split from the "civilized world" with every passing month, and the style of this deepening is becoming increasingly spectacular.
First, in mid-April, the Belarusian special services were announced to have uncovered a coup plan schemed by their American colleagues, with an ultimate goal of physically eliminating the "Batska", as he is often referred to, and his family. Then, about a month later, a Ryanair plane was forced to land at the Minsk airport aimed to detain founder of the opposition Telegram channel Nexta Roman Protasevich who was on board. And finally, when a group of people led by Mayor Mārtiņš Staķis lowered the Belarusian flag in Riga, where the Ice Hockey World Cup was underway, with flags of all the participating countries located in the downtown area, Minsk immediately decided to expel all the Latvian diplomats and virtually break off diplomatic relations.
Belarus' response to the boorish Balts cannot but cause admiration, although in Latvia itself it was aggrievedly called "asymmetric" (they probably believe that an outrage upon their own flag in Minsk would be an adequate response). But the Protasevich narrative drew such a response and a wave of sanctions (both already implemented and still being planned) on the part of "civilized countries" only because relations with them already bit the dust. After all, there are many examples over the recent decades alone, when countries comparable to Belarus in terms of their geopolitical weight, conducted similar operations with much less noise from Europe and the United States. For example, as expert on East and South-East Asia Vasily Kashin recalls, Mongolia once stole from Europe a compatriot suspected of murdering Infrastructure Minister Sanjaasürengiin Zorig; and Vietnam sneaked manager Trinh Xuan Thanh, who fled to Germany after facing corruption charges.
In any case, the gravest conflict between Lukashenko's Belarus and the EU and the United States in the last 25 years is obvious, and it keeps worsening. It seems that this fact should become basis for a new round of rapprochement between Moscow and Minsk. All the more so as the West has already "drawn" the Russian Federation into the Protasevich case orbit as an accomplice, and there are loud talks urging to block the Nord Stream-2 project finish thereon.
However, even within a framework of this kind, the Belarusian leader keeps carefully building relations with his ally, avoiding excessive integration. Apart from Lukashenko's psychological make-up and bilateral cooperation peculiarities that have accumulated over years, there is one more important factor of this behavior. Namely, the Belarusian crisis' embeddedness in the context of the global US-Chinese confrontation. As we wrote ahead of the August presidential election, the Celestial Empire deems Belarus as the most essential beachhead in the European space, with the United States and its partners thinking the very same way. Time has only confirmed the integrity of such scopes.
Now the Beijing-Minsk strategic partnership is becoming more open. At that, Russian-Chinese relations have recently strengthened, and in a certain sense and certain aspects one may even talk about a triple alliance of China-Belarus-Russia. But Lukashenko seems to consider China to be the main apex of this triangle, providing a counterweight to the Russian influence at the same time. We can say that Belarus cooperates with the Russian Federation as an ally of China, not with China as an ally of the Russian Federation.
Belarus' special attitude to the Celestial Empire is even noticeable at the level of everyday sociology. Your present correspondent recently visited several bookstores, while in Minsk. The first impression was a huge number (up to two-thirds) of books in the formally majority language, which is absolutely inconsistent with its prevalence in the country and even more so in the absolutely Russian-speaking capital. The second thing is the abundance of books on Sino-Belarusian relations (even with separate shelves appropriated), like for instance, "Belarusian-Chinese Relations in the Memoirs of Belarusian Diplomats".
Of course, the shadow cast by China is not the only reason (although vital) for Lukashenko's "multivectorness", which has shrunk to become a "two-vector" approach under current conditions. The whole combination of causes lets us assume that in the face of the Western set laced with aggression, Alexander Lukashenko will proceed with the policy of maintaining a distance with Moscow. One of the latest examples is the Belarusian president's statements that the unification of Russia and Belarus would entail serious consequences, having become a gift to the Americans and the collective West and prompting new sanctions (apparently, the current ones seem acceptable). When it comes to the practices, the absence of these practices appears to be an obvious symptom. At least in terms of major integration commitments.
The recent meeting between Lukashenko and President Putin with many people expecting a lot from it, failed to present decisive progress. We can only mention the agreement on a loan tranche worth half a billion dollars and a preliminary agreement on direct flights from Minsk to Simferopol. Lukashenko formulated it as a maturing opportunity. Obviously, this obscure wording can be taken as a symbol of Russian-Belarusian integration at least in the short term.