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Is Belarus on the brink of pivoting away from Russia?

President Lukashenko’s recent actions and statements suggest Belarus may be about to pivot away from its traditional alliance with Russia towards the West.

Andrew Korybko

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The past couple of days have seen a flurry of statements and actions from the Belarussian side indicating that President Lukashenko is on the brink of pivoting his country away from Russia.

As a brief backgrounder, I have previously written a detailed analysis in May 2015 questioning the intentions behind Belarus’ rapid rapprochement with the West, suggesting that its leader might be tempted by sanctions relief and other perks to ditch his Russian ally in favor of his new “Western partners”.  Lo and behold, that cautionary forecast now horrifyingly seems to be on the verge of rapidly materializing, as Lukashenko sharply lashed out at Russia for its decision to heighten the FSB’s security forces along their mutual border and has threatened escalatory political-legal measures in response.

Russia’s supposedly controversial move was prompted by Minsk declaring at the beginning of last month that it would implement 5-day visa-free travel privileges to visitors from over 80 countries. While the public intent behind this decision appears to have been to improve Belarus’ attractiveness to foreign tourists and bring in much-needed foreign currency, any responsible security professional in Russia could obviously see the potential for it to be exploited by hostile forces in exporting countless “Weapons of Mass Migration” into their country.

It should be remarked in this context that Russia and Belarus are legally in a “union state” which has removed the common international border between them, so “visitors” entering Belarus could in theory just hop across the border to Russia without any problem.

Therefore, Moscow felt compelled to order the FSB border security initiative which has since rankled Minsk.

In hindsight, it appears as though Lukashenko’s earlier decision pertaining to 5-day visa-free travel privileges for over 80 different countries was a sly provocation to trigger the predicted Russian response, with Belarus foreseeing that this would give it enough of a “face-saving” excuse to justify its further pivot towards the West.

In regards to this preplanned provocation and Russia’s reasonable reaction to it, Lukashenko has issued a set of statements which would have been otherwise inconceivable – or at the very least, “unjustified” – had it not been for the drama that he (or the foreign forces advising him) first engineered.

Commenting on the FSB decision to heighten border security with Belarus, he accused Russia of violating international agreements , which is uncharacteristically harsh language for one “ally” to use against another. Coupling this with the preexisting (and often perennial) oil dispute that he once again has with Moscow, Lukashenko swore that he would take Russia to court.

If this results in Russia cutting off oil supplies or at the very least reducing their output until the increasingly prolonged dispute is finally settled, then Belarus is willing to deal with the consequences of what would eerily mirror the gas crisis that Ukraine started with Russia over a decade ago.

In the words of the Belarussian President himself

It is clear that we will do without Russian oil, though it will be very difficult for us. It is not comparable, if you choose between independence and Russian, Iranian, Azerbaijani or American oil

As the saying goes, “when it rains, it pours”, and Lukashenko looks to have used this ‘convenient’ occasion to also issue threats against Russia for banning select agricultural imports from Belarus on the grounds that they were unsafe.

Lukashenko pinpointed Sergey Dankvert, the head of Rosselkhoznadzor (Russian agriculture watchdog), as being the subject of a new “criminal proceeding” for allegedly “causing damage to the state”.

What Belarus is doing, in fact, is laying the precedential framework for later ‘justifying’ its forthcoming withdrawal or (voluntary or Russian-enforced) suspension from the Eurasian Union, despite Lukashenko smearing such a forecast as a “hoax story”.

It might also be preparing to do something similar as regards the CSTO, even though the organization just issued an official statement refuting any such reports.

It’s unclear at this moment exactly how far Belarus’ pro-Western pivot will go, and whether Lukashenko plans to leave or become suspended from one or both of these organizations, or remain within them as a permanent stumbling block to their efficiency.

The Belarussian leader’s words can’t be taken at face value, since even if he intends to pursue one or the other scenario, he’d obviously have enough diplomatic sense at this time to not openly state so in public, though whatever promises he gave to his new “Western partners” are another matter entirely.

No matter which direction it ultimately leads, Belarus’ latest moves are very troubling for Russia’s multipolar integrational efforts and have served to accelerate the deterioration in trust between both sides.

Although bilateral disputes are not uncommon, this one carries with it a deeper significance because of the raft of countermeasures and unusually harsh rhetoric that accompany it, to say nothing of the tense international situation of the New Cold War in which all of this is unfolding.

It’s very unlikely that the hot-headed and stubborn Lukashenko will back down from his latest theatrics, both because of the nature of his personality and due to the subtle encouragement that he’s getting from his new “Western partners”.

The extent of how far he’ll eventually go is probably dependent on the financial and other personal benefits that he believes he can reap from a pro-Western pivot, as well as whether Russia is successful in matching or ‘outbidding’ them for his continued ‘loyalty’.

A closet reading of the situation, however, indicates that Belarus has already made up its mind about which direction it wants to go and is approaching the final stages of formalizing its decision.

Minsk’s latest attacks against Moscow might even be political signaling to Brussels and Washington that Lukashenko is serious about whatever he may have previously agreed to with them behind closed doors, and that this most recent round of rhetoric is a ‘goodwill gesture’ designed to prove to them that he’s indeed a trustworthy partner. All that he’s waiting for now is confirmation that his covert interlocutors will carry through on their end of the deal, which might not happen right away of course, but could progressively play out across the next couple of months as more sanctions are lifted and other perks extended to the Belarussian leadership and its military-economic elite supporters.

Should Belarus continue along this trajectory, then whether or not it remains in Russia’s economic and military integrational institutions is a moot point because it’ll be essentially functioning as a deadweight which holds them back from everything that they’re trying to accomplish.

Even worse, however, would be if Lukashenko tries to integrate Belarus into the opposite direction through an EU Association Agreement and a milder form of the “Shadow NATO” partnership that Ukraine presently has.

If either of these two, let alone both, eventualities ends up transpiring in any form or fashion, then it would signal a major crisis for the security of Russia’s western borderland regions.

Russia already has to worry about Sweden and Finland potentially joining NATO in the future, the Atlantic Bloc’s illegal buildup in the Baltic States and Poland, Ukraine’s uncomfortable de-facto integration with parts of the organization, and the group’s provocative war games in the Black Sea, so the last thing that Moscow needs to worry about at this moment is one of its most trusted and longest allies ‘defecting’ to the enemy and opening up a gaping hole in Russia’s security.

Moreover, given the lasting effect of historical memory and unshakeable geopolitical determinants, it’s entirely foreseeable that an emboldened and newly anti-Russian Belarus might team up with Poland in expanding Warsaw’s “NeoCommonwealth” eastward to the gates of the Russian Heartland/Core.

There’s no telling how Russia’s decision makers would preemptively respond if they were convinced that such a scenario was inevitably unfolding, but it’s reasonable to conclude that it would represent the end of the Russian-Belarussian Strategic Partnership.

From a cynical perspective, however, the triggering of this series of events – which appears to have already started to a certain degree – might have been exactly what the US and EU expected when they initiated their first ‘olive branch’ outreaches to the country a few years ago, and with Lukahsneko personally lavishing in the “pro-democratic” praise of his new “Western partners” and appearing to be utterly enamored with the attention that they’ve been giving him lately, it’s going to be a monumental challenge for Russia to reverse the strategic momentum and “win” Belarus back.

DISCLAIMER: All personal views are my own and do not necessarily coincide with the positions of my employer (Sputnik News) or partners unless explicitly and unambiguously stated otherwise by them. I write in a private capacity unrepresentative of anything and anyone except for my own personal views. Nothing written by me should ever be conflated with Sputnik or the Russian government’s official position on any issue.

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BREXIT chaos, as May’s cabinet crumbles (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 18.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris take a quick look at the various scenarios now facing a crumbling May government, as the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement is forcing cabinet members to resign in rapid succession. The weekend ahead is fraught with uncertainty for the UK and its position within, or outside, the European Union.

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If Theresa May’s ill-fated Brexit Withdrawal Agreement is eventually rejected this could trigger a vote of no confidence, snap elections or even a new referendum…

Here are six possible scenarios facing Theresa May and the UK (via The Guardian)

1 Parliament blocks Theresa May’s draft withdrawal agreement and political declarations

May faces an enormous task to win parliamentary approval, given that Labour, the SNP, the DUP and 51 Tories have said they will not vote for it.

If the remaining 27 EU member states sign off the draft agreement on 25 November, the government will have to win over MPs at a crucial vote in early December.

If May loses the vote, she has 21 days to put forward a new plan. If she wins, she is safe for now.

2 May withdraws the current draft agreement

The prime minister could decide that she will not get the draft agreement through parliament and could seek to renegotiate with the EU.

This would anger Tory backbenchers and Brussels and would be seen as a humiliation for her government. It might spark a leadership contest too.

3 Extend article 50

May could ask the European council to extend article 50, giving her more time to come up with a deal that could be passed by parliament – at present, the UK will leave on 29 March 2019.

Such a request would not necessarily be granted. Some EU governments are under pressure from populist parties to get the UK out of the EU as soon as possible.

4 Conservative MPs trigger a vote of no confidence in the prime minister

If Conservative MPs believe May is no longer fit for office, they could trigger a no-confidence vote.

Members of the European Research Group claim that Graham Brady, the chair of the powerful 1922 Committee, will receive the necessary 48 letters this week.

A vote could be held as soon as early next week. All Tory MPs would be asked to vote for or against their leader. If May wins, she cannot be challenged for at least 12 months. If she loses, there would be a leadership contest to decide who will become prime minister.

5 General election – three possible routes

If May fails to get support for the current deal, she could call a snap general election.

She would table a parliamentary vote for a general election that would have to be passed by two thirds of MPs. She would then set an election date, which could be by the end of January.

This is an unlikely option. May’s political credibility was severely damaged when she called a snap election in 2017, leading to the loss of the Conservative party’s majority.

Alternatively, a general election could be called if a simple majority of MPs vote that they have no confidence in the government. Seven Tory MPs, or all of the DUP MPs, would have to turn against the government for it to lose the vote, triggering a two-week cooling-off period. May would remain in office while MPs negotiate a new government.

Another route to a general election would be for the government to repeal or amend the Fixed-term Parliaments Act which creates a five-year period between general elections. A new act would have to be passed through both the Commons and the Lords – an unlikely scenario.

6 Second referendum

May could decide it is impossible to find a possible draft deal that will be approved by parliament and go for a people’s vote.

The meaningful vote could be amended to allow MPs to vote on whether the country holds a second referendum. It is unclear whether enough MPs would back a second referendum and May has ruled it out.

 

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Brexit Withdrawal Agreement may lead to Theresa May’s downfall (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 151.

Alex Christoforou

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The Brexit Withdrawal Agreement has been published and as many predicted, including Nigel Farage, the document is leading to the collapse of Theresa May’s government.

During an interview with iTV’s Piers Morgan, remain’s Alistair Campell and leave’s Nigel Farage, were calling May’s Brexit deal a complete disaster.

Via iTV

Alastair Campbell: “This doesn’t do remotely what was offered…what is the point”

“Parliament is at an impasse”

“We have to go back to the people” …”remain has to be on the ballot paper”

Nigel Farage:

“This is the worst deal in history. We are giving away in excess of 40B pounds in return for precisely nothing. Trapped still inside the European Union’s rulebook.

“Nothing has been achieved.”

“In any negotiation in life…the other side need to know that you are serious about walking away.”

“What monsieur Barnier knew from day one, is that at no point did Theresa May intend to walk away.”

“Fundamental matter of trust to the electors of our country and those who govern us.”

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss Theresa May’s Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, and why the deal is a full on victory for the European Union and a document of subjugation for the United Kingdom.

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Coming in at 585 pages, the draft agreement will be closely scrutinized over the coming days but here are some of the highlights as outlined by Zerohedge

  • UK and EU to use the best endeavours to supersede Ireland protocol by 2020
  • UK can request extension of the transition period any time before July 1st, 2020
  • EU, UK See Level-Playing Field Measures in Future Relationship
  • Transition period may be extended once up to date yet to be specified in the text
  • EU and UK shall establish single customs territory and Northern Ireland is in same customs territory as Great Britain

The future relationship document is less than seven pages long. It says the U.K. and EU are seeking a free-trade area with cooperation on customs and rules: “Comprehensive arrangements creating a free trade area combining deep regulatory and customs cooperation, underpinned by provisions ensuring a level playing field for open and fair competition.”

The wording might raise concerns among Brexiters who don’t want regulatory cooperation and the measures on fair competition could amount to shackling the U.K. to EU rules.

As Bloomberg’s Emma Ross-Thomas writes, “There’s a clear sense in the documents that we’re heading for a customs union in all but name. Firstly via the Irish backstop, and then via the future relationship.”

Separately, a government summary of the draft agreement suggests role for parliament in deciding whether to extend the transition or to move in to the backstop.

But perhaps most importantly, regarding the controversial issue of the Irish border, the future relationship document says both sides aim to replace the so-called backstop – the thorniest issue in the negotiations – with a “subsequent agreement that establishes alternative arrangements for ensuring the absence of a hard border on the island of Ireland on a permanent footing.”

On this topic, recall that the U.K.’s fear was of being locked into the backstop arrangement indefinitely in the absence of a broader trade deal. The draft agreement includes a review process to try to give reassurance that the backstop would never be needed. Basically, the U.K. could choose to seek an extension to the transition period – where rules stay the same as they are currently – or opt to trigger the backstop conditions. In fact, as Bloomberg notes, the word “backstop,” which has been a sticking point over the Irish border for weeks, is mentioned only once in the text.

As Bloomberg further adds, the withdrawal agreement makes clear that the U.K. will remain in a single customs area with the EU until there’s a solution reached on the Irish border. It’s what Brexiteers hate, because it makes it more difficult for the U.K. to sign its own free-trade deals, which they regard as a key prize of Brexit.

Predictably, EU Commission President Juncker said decisive progress has been made in negotiations.

Meanwhile, as analysts comb over the documents, Jacob Rees-Mogg, chairman of the European Research Group, has already written to Conservative lawmakers urging them to vote against the deal. He says:

  • May is handing over money for “little or nothing in return”
  • The agreement treats Northern Ireland differently from the rest of the U.K.
  • It will “lock” the U.K. into a customs union with the EU
  • It breaks the Tory election manifesto of 2017

The full document…

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4 resignations and counting: May’s government ‘falling apart before our eyes’ over Brexit deal

The beginning of the end for Theresa May’s government.

The Duran

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Via RT


Four high profile resignations have followed on the heels of Theresa May’s announcement that her cabinet has settled on a Brexit deal, with Labour claiming that the Conservative government is at risk of completely dissolving.

Shailesh Vara, the Minister of State at the Northern Ireland Office was the first top official to resign after the prime minister announced that her cabinet had reached a draft EU withdrawal agreement.

An hour after his announcement, Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab – the man charged with negotiating and finalizing the deal – said he was stepping down, stating that the Brexit deal in its current form suffers from deep flaws. Esther McVey, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, submitted her letter of resignation shortly afterwards. More resignations have followed.

Labour’s shadow Cabinet Office minister, Jon Trickett, predicted that this is the beginning of the end for May’s government.

The government is falling apart before our eyes as for a second time the Brexit secretary has refused to back the prime minister’s Brexit plan. This so-called deal has unraveled before our eyes

Shailesh Vara: UK to be stuck in ‘a half-way house with no time limit’

Kicking off Thursday’s string of resignations, Vara didn’t mince words when describing his reservations about the cabinet-stamped Brexit deal.

Theresa May’s EU withdrawal agreement leaves the UK in a “halfway house with no time limit on when we will finally become a sovereign nation,” his letter of resignation states. Vara went on to warn that the draft agreement leaves a number of critical issues undecided, predicting that it “will take years to conclude” a trade deal with the bloc.

“We will be locked in a customs arrangement indefinitely, bound by rules determined by the EU over which we have no say,” he added.

Dominic Raab: Deal can’t be ‘reconciled’ with promises made to public

Announcing his resignation on Thursday morning, Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab tweeted: “I cannot in good conscience support the terms proposed for our deal with the EU.”

Raab claimed that the deal in its current form gives the EU veto power over the UK’s ability to annul the deal.

No democratic nation has ever signed up to be bound by such an extensive regime.

Former Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith said that Raab’s resignation as Brexit secretary is “devastating” for May.

“It sounds like he has been ignored,” he told the BBC.

Raab’s departure will undoubtedly encourage other Brexit supporters to question the deal, political commentators have observed.

Esther McVey: Deal ‘does not honor’ Brexit referendum

Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey didn’t hold back when issuing her own letter of resignation. According to McVey, the deal “does not honour” the result of the Brexit referendum, in which a majority of Brits voted to leave the European Union.

Suella Braverman: ‘Unable to sincerely support’ deal

Suella Braverman, a junior minister in Britain’s Brexit ministry, issued her resignation on Thursday, saying that she couldn’t stomach the deal.

“I now find myself unable to sincerely support the deal agreed yesterday by cabinet,” she said in a letter posted on Twitter.

Suella Braverman, MP Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the Department for Exiting the EU © Global Look Press / Joel Goodman
Braverman said that the deal is not what the British people voted for, and threatened to tear the country apart.

“It prevents an unequivocal exit from a customs union with the EU,” she said.

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