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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Poll Results Leave Kremlin Embarrassed but Resigned

Alexander Lukashenko, the tempestuous, erratic president of Belarus, has managed to leave the Kremlin red-faced but acquiescent about his decision to renege on a Moscow-backed compromise and hold a legally binding constitutional referendum, which he won by an overwhelming margin Sunday.


After Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin discussed the referendum's results with a convalescing President Boris Yeltsin on Monday afternoon, the Kremlin issued a statement which explicitly failed to congratulate Lukashenko on his landslide victory.


"It was again stressed how timely were the steps Russia took, which eased the tension in Belarus society on the eve of the referendum, prevented a social explosion and averted the development of a turn of events for the worse in Russian-Belarussian relations," the Kremlin press service said. Chernomyrdin later told reporters the referendum gave a "normal result."


"It's a matter for Belarus," he said.


Chernomyrdin spent a sleepless night in Minsk on Thursday in order to sooth a potentially explosive dispute between Lukashenko and his oppositionist parliament. The Moscow-brokered deal involved an agreement by Lukashenko to make Sunday's constitutional referendum non-binding if parliament would drop its impeachment proceedings against him.


But parliament refused to ratify the compromise, and Lukashenko backed out of the deal less than 24 hours after it had been signed.


Sunday's vote, in which more than 70 percent of the electorate voted for Lukashenko, demonstrated yet again that Moscow has to walk a very fine line it its dealings with the volatile, but extremely popular, Belarussian president.


There was never much doubt that Lukashenko would get the sweeping powers he sought in Sunday's ballot. According to analysts, even if the referendum had been non-binding and the compromise deal had gone through, it would have meant, at the most, a three-month delay while a Constitutional Assembly, chaired by Lukashenko and made up of largely of his supporters, went through the motions of drafting a new basic law.


"The referendum was not about whether Lukashenko broadened his powers but about the process by which he did that, and about whether there would be armed insurrection or not," said Irina Siliyanova, a researcher with the Institute of International Economic and Political Studies. Chernomyrdin's compromise was designed to avert a standoff with a small but vocal opposition that could have led to violence. Yeltsin, who is recovering from heart surgery, took personal credit for the agreement.


According to analysts, the Kremlin's cool reaction to the referendum results proved that it was slightly irked with Lukashenko's decision to go things alone. "It's a blow to Moscow in a sense that the Kremlin advertised its mediation efforts. The Kremlin will probably keep a low profile for the near future," said Irina Kobrynskaya, of the Moscow Center of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.


However, Kobrynskaya said she did not expect Moscow to reprimand Lukashenko, primarily because it is in Russia's interests to let Belarus politics settle down.


Moscow will only agree to intervene in Belarus affairs if parliament continues with its attempt to impeach Lukashenko, said Kobrynskaya, adding that this is an unlikely scenario since several deputies have already removed themselves from the list of those demanding impeachment hearings.