Is Russia out to annex Belarus?
A change in Russian export and taxation laws has led to significantly higher oil and gas prices for Belarus, which had benefited from special conditions until now. Belarusian president Lukashenko is demanding compensation for the higher costs, but according to observers he will only receive it if he consents to a closer alliance with Russia. How much resistance should Moscow expect?
Where Soviet nostalgia works against Moscow
A major obstacle to the idea of unification between Russia and Belarus would be public opinion, which in Novaya Gazeta's view is clearly in favour of independent statehood:
“From the very first loyalist to the last opposition member, from the provincial retiree to the capital hipster, nobody wants the country to become its eastern neighbour's 86th region. ... The same mood that has helped the Kremlin in Crimea and Donbass is a major obstacle in Belarus. Nostalgia for Soviet stability can be found throughout the territory of the former Byelorussian SSR. But whereas in Crimea it was aimed towards Russia, in Belarus it is directed towards itself and Alexander Grigoryevich [Lukashenko].”
Belarus more successful than Russia and Ukraine
Belarus won't give up its independence that easily, Latvijas Avīze agrees:
“Even if the dark side of Belarus's statehood and economic model is no secret, we still believe it has a bright side as well. Not just neat cities, good roads, sufficient jobs and relative prosperity. The social gap between the upper and lower classes is far smaller than it is in Russia or Ukraine. And Belarus's major advantage is that it's not losing its population. ... People aren't leaving Europe's last dictatorship: on the contrary, they're moving there in considerable numbers. Their decision isn't influenced by propaganda but by the living conditions. No political TV shows or patriotic appeals can influence those who vote with their feet. So we shouldn't write off Belarus too quickly.”
Lukashenko has little leeway
Lukashenko stands little chance of forming a closer alliance with the West, Kommersant FM writes:
“It looks like the Belarusian president is launching a serious counter-attack. ... Lukashenko has asked his subordinates to arrange oil imports with Lithuania. The question, however, is whether Lukashenko is really ready to distance himself from Russia and embrace the West along Ukrainian lines. That seems unlikely because it could mean losing power quickly. Or his new friends will demand reforms that make Russia's tax manoeuvres look like child's play in comparison. ... So a compromise seems the most likely option, but it will no doubt be linked to certain concessions regarding sovereignty.”
Unclear balance of power
Lietuvos žinios takes a look at the rumours of Belarus unifying with Russia:
“Is the Kremlin even interested in Belarus? ... One argument against this: Russia lacks the money to provide for new territories. And how would the ambitious Lukashenko react? He's ruled the country on his own for so long and now he's supposed to step down and retire? And if he does resist, how certain can he be that the army and security forces will back him and be loyal to Belarus? It's an open secret that many of the people who work for these structures are pro-Russian. And how would the population react to an annexation? Lukashenko has strengthened the Belarusian identity to his own authoritarian advantage. But how many people in the country identify politically and culturally with the East, and how many with the West?”