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Kremlin takeover? Russia offers Belarus financial aid — if it agrees to more political integration with Moscow

The president of Belarus has said that this Russian offer is a thinly veiled takeover attempt

Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko (VASILY FEDOSENKO/AFP/Getty Images)

On Friday, the president of Belarus announced that the Russian government had offered his country a financial lifeline, in return for integrating more with Russia, a move that he said was a Russian plan to take over his country.

What's the situation?

Belarus is a former Soviet republic that gained its independence with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. It borders Russia, as well as Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Ukraine.

In 1999, Belarus and Russia signed an agreement to form a union that would share foreign policy, currency, and a legal system.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has been in power since 1994. According to the CIA World Factbook, Lukashenko “has steadily consolidated his power through authoritarian means and a centralized economic system. Government restrictions on political and civil freedoms, freedom of speech and the press, peaceful assembly, and religion have remained in place."

While the Belarusian economy has improved in 2017 and 2018, it struggled in the five years prior to that.

What happened now?

On Thursday, Russian Prime Minister and former President Dmitry Medvedev announced that Russia would be willing to offer Belarus financial assistance in return for Belarus adhering to the 1999 agreement. This comes as Russian tax rules threaten to increase the cost of oil and gas entering Belarus. Belarus is dependent on Russia for these vital resources.

At a news conference Friday, Lukashenko said that Medvedev's offer was an attempt by the Russian government to reabsorb Belarus.

“I understand those hints: here's your oil, but you must destroy your country and join Russia," he said.

“Splitting us into separate regions and merging with Russia — that will never happen," Lukashenko told the Belarusian news outlet Belta, according to a translation by Bloomberg News. He told Belta that the Russian oil and gas policies could cost his country more than $10 billion over the next six years, but that this was not worth giving up Belarusian independence.

“Sovereignty is a sacred thing for us," he said.

One last thing…
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