The results of the constitutional referendum in Belarus that cleared the way for prolonging the rule of the country’s current leader, Alexander Lukashenko, after 2006 when his present term in office will expire, were extremely important in the Russian context. On that day, October 17, 2004, one more challenge to the Russian policy in the Western NIS and to the assumption that Moscow can block undesired actions in the area was revealed.
It cannot be known for certain whether the Kremlin has acquiesced to the method chosen by Minsk to continue Lukashenko’s stay in power. To this author, an indirect answer can be found in President Vladimir Putin’s statement on Ukrainian television 10 days after the Belarusian referendum, when Lukashenko was in Kyiv as well as on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of Ukraine liberation from Nazi occupation. According to Putin, the constitutional provision allowing two terms in office should be adhered to, not amended. But even if Russia’s initial reaction to Lukashenko’s plan was not negative, Moscow could not stay indifferent to the rhetoric that Lukashenko used to win the people’s support. The campaign, (started the day Russia was mourning Beslan victims) focused on contrasting Belarus, allegedly stable and secure, with its “eastern sister” that was suffering from terror. This comparison could only provoke Moscow’s sensitivities.
It should then come as a surprise that Lukashenko received a cold reception in Kyiv and had to leave suddenly, so everyone noticed his absence from the anniversary parade. Was this a turning point in the bilateral relation? Will Moscow now re-think its Belarusian policy? This paper argues that although immediate changes may not be coming, by the elections in 2006 a new policy will possibly emerge. A crucial role in influencing the Russian position will be played by the European Union, and the final shape of Russian policy will depend on whether a triangular relationship between Russia, EU and their common neighbors will emerge. [...]