>In a rare display of displeasure with the Belarusian leadership, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who is visiting Belarus to chair the Council of Ministers of the Union State of Russia and Belarus, rebuked Alexander Lukashenko for dragging his feet on recognizing Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent countries. Apart from the Russian Federation, only Venezuela, Nicaragua, and diminutive Nauru in the South Pacific Ocean have extended diplomatic recognition to Georgia’s breakaway regions, both of which are occupied by the Russian army.
“Russia expected Belarus to support us in this issue quickly, energetically, and spectacularly. Indeed, this is not happening,” Putin grumbled to reporters at a press conference held in Brest, Belarus. He added: “However, whether to recognize these two regions or not is Minsk’s sovereign right.” Putin suggested that President Lukashenko was overly concerned about European Union sensitivities ahead of normalizing Minsk-Brussels relations. He added: “We have always favored an improvement of Belarus’ ties with Western countries. A positive effect has already been produced.”
With the hope of goading the recalcitrant Belarusians, Putin pledged to provide the country with cheap gas and oil that could save Minsk more than US$4 billion in 2010. Putin also urged Belarus to quickly adopt a joint currency with Russia.
Comrade Alex, however, was nowhere to be found in Belarus. Instead, he is touring Latin America, prompting some political analysts to speculate that Lukashenko fled Minsk before his Moscow master arrived to chew him out. The Belarusian government press service retorted by calling the media speculation “groundless.” Instead of Lukashenko, therefore, Belarusian Prime Minister Sergei Sidorsky (pictured above) bore the brunt of Putin’s drubbing.
Lukashenko is presently rubbing elbows with Hugo Chavez, where he once again offered to modernize Comrade Hugo’s air defense system by offloading some radar units and antiaircraft missile batteries. In a quid pro quo, the Venezuela’s red tyrant offered to sell 80,000 barrels of oil per day to Belarus, presumably at a preferential price. Lukashenko is expected to meet his Brazilian counterpart Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva on March 22 in Rio de Janeiro.
Chavez plans to visit Belarus again in October, at which time he will most likely swing through Moscow for an annual briefing session with his KGB handler Putin. Lukashenko is also making plans to return to Venezuela in 2011. “Venezuela is our home, our land. And Belarus should become a familiar land for Venezuelans,” gushed the Belarusian president while in Caracas.
Although Putin feigns optimism for Belarus’ rapprochement with the EU, this is unlikely in the wake of at least two spy imbroglios that have developed between Belarus and former Warsaw Pact member Poland. As we previously reported, in March 2009 the Polish Internal Security Agency (ABW) arrested an alleged GRU agent, a putative businessman who had been legally resident in Poland for 10 years and boasted a strong command of the Polish language.
The Russian embassy in Warsaw disavowed all knowledge of the Russian national, whose apartment contained electronic signalling equipment. The office of Polish President Lech Kaczyński admitted that this was the first time a Russian spy had been detected in Poland since 1989, the year in which the Polish United Workers’ Party abandoned its public monopoly of power.
A second spy flap centers on the person of Belarusian “Mata Hari” Olga Solomenik, an alleged agent of the Belarusian KGB, which still operates under its old dreaded name. Solomenik joined the pro-government faction of the Union of Belarusian Poles and then traveled to Bialystok, Poland to recruit employees of the ABW. In Bialystok Solomenik “turned” ABW officer “Robert R” into handing over classified documents, which she forwarded to her KGB handlers in Minsk, which in turned were forwarded to the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB/KGB). In February 2008 “Robert R” was arrested and currently faces espionage charges under Polish law.
“We have evidence that the Belarusian KGB used the pro-Lukashenko Union of Poles in Belarus to gather information in Poland, which was later forwarded to Russia’s secret service,” a former ABW officer was quoted by the Gazeta Wyborcza as saying. The anonymous source continues:
There’s a reason why nobody is talking about this. ABW cares about having good relations with the Belarusian KGB. Officially, we do not have good relations with Belarus, but cooperation with the KGB is necessary for [Poland] to monitor border traffic, as required by the EU. Brussels’ priority is to fight against illegal immigrants and contraband entering from the East.
Belarusian “Mata Hari” Solomenik is still at large. The Union of Belarusian Poles split into two factions in 2005. It is believed that Tadeusz Kruczkowski, the head of the pro-Lukashenko group, is also a Belarusian KGB agent. The fact that the communist regime in Minsk is using the pro-government faction to infiltrate the KGB into Poland may explain why it is cracking down so hard on the anti-government faction.
Elsewhere in the “post”-Soviet space, Moldova’s communists, who openly ruled the former Soviet republic between 2001 and 2009, are conniving to manipulate their plurality in parliament into a workable government. On Thursday they began a boycott of parliament in an ongoing bid to force the resignation of acting President Mihai Ghimpu and his pro-European Union coalition. The inability of the new legislature to elect a new president has aggravated the Moldovan economy, the poorest in Europe. Ghimpu’s ruling coalition plans to hold a referendum to amend election rules and make nominating a new president easier, but the communists denounced this plan as a “usurpation of power.”
The communist-scripted drama in Chisinau seems disingenuous since, according to Soviet defector Vladimir Bukovsky, the EU was from the beginning a Soviet project, while “ex”-communists lead some of the parties in the ruling coalition. It may be, though, that pure power politics is competing with the Soviet strategic deception in Moldova.