Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko is meeting Russia’s leader Vladimir Putin in Sochi on Saturday to discuss deeper integration. Back in Minsk, meanwhile, Belarusians are hitting the streets to protest against what they say could be a full capitulation to Moscow.
The protesters are calling for the Belarusian leader to withstand Moscow’s pressure and not to sign a new integration deal between Belarus and Russia. The Union State agreement from 1999 is due to be renewed in 2020, and previous media reports suggested it may include a de facto confederacy between the two states.
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A protest in Minsk on Saturday is organised by Vladimir Matskevich from the Belarusian social movement ‘Fresh Wind’.
“No we are trying to surround a two-kilometre stretch in the central street [in Minsk],” Matskevich told LRT RADIO. “Our movement has been alive for only three months and we can’t expect to mobilise tens and hundreds of thousands of people,” he said, adding that the society in Belarus isn’t ready for a wide-scale demonstration.
The activist said the protests in Belarus were usually attacked by the police, and therefore, called for people to weigh the potential risks.
“They began dispersing protests violently [in Belarus] even before the Moscow [protests]” that shook the Russian capital in summer 2019, said Matskevich.
Being imprisoned or beaten up "only lessens the ability to resist,” he added. “We don’t want victims, nor over-the-top heroics.”
The scope of the renewed Union State agreement that Lukashenko could sign in Sochi is unclear, as, according to the Belarusian civil society, the negotiations are classified.
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“We tried to turn to the court and find the answers on what our government is planning to do,” said Matskevich, to no avail. The current secrecy shrouding the Union State documents is “unconstitutional”.
Belarusian Ambassador to Russia Vladimir Semashko said earlier in November that Minsk would seek a closer integration with Moscow as per the 1999 treaty, including setting up a single parliament and government.
However, the Belarussian Embassy in Moscow distanced itself from Semashko’s comments, claiming his words had been taken out of context by the media.
Points in the agreement that posed a “direct threat to Belarusian sovereignty will likely remain unsigned,” said Matskevich. However, the existing Union State agreement from 1999 includes the same problematic goals, according to Matskevich.
“[The agreement] simply wasn’t [implemented] for 20 years, and now Putin and his regime decided to expedite the process and finish what the agreement stipulates,” he added. “This is what we are fighting against.”