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Are Russia And The West Jointly Destabilizing Belarus?

Are Russia And The West Jointly Destabilizing Belarus?
Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko during the Independence Day parade
Image by Press Service of the President of the Republic of Belarus

Tens of thousands of people came out in the streets across Belarus to protest against what they see as a fraudulent presidential election after the Central Election Commission said the incumbent President Alexander Lukashenko won 79,7 percent of the vote. Opposition supporters claim Lukashenko’s main rival Svetlana Tikhanovskaya has either won outright, or has at least got enough votes for getting into a second round run-off. At the end – as Peter Ludwig Berger, an Austrian-born American sociologist and Protestant theologian once said – he who has the bigger stick has the better chance of imposing his definitions of reality.

So far, Belarusian riot police managed to successfully handle protests in the capital city, Minsk, although there are unconfirmed reports that in some provincial towns law enforcement officers apparently laid down their shields and refused to fight protesters. In Minsk the police reportedly prevented protesters from building barricades in the city center and capturing government buildings, which was a strategy that was used by demonstrators in neighboring Ukraine in 2013 and 2014 when allegedly pro-Russia President Viktor Yanukovych was overthrown. Lukashenko repeated on several occasions that he would not allow any Ukrainian-style Maidan scenarios in Belarus. Although the police managed to suppress protests that erupted hours after the polling stations were closed, it is expected the “main round” of demonstration will start on Monday and could last throughout the week, if not longer. It is worth noting that Western and Russian mainstream media who have been warning of the COVID-19 dangers prior to World War II Victory Day Parade that was held in Minsk on May 9, now completely ignore the coronavirus issue and the possibility of a disease transmission.

The Belarusian President was ridiculed and criticized by both Russia and the West as he refused to implement radical lockdown measures against COVID-19 pandemic. Before the election, Moscow even refused to send its observes to monitor voting in Belarus due to “a very specific attitude of the Belarusian leadership to the coronavirus pandemic.” During Election Day, both Russian and Western propagandists were very active on social networks praising the opposition and condemning “the last European dictator”. Unlike the United States and European Union that have imposed sanctions on Belarus ages ago, Russia started to destabilize Lukashenko in January after it halted oil supplies to Belarusian refineries. Although the two countries have a long history of energy disputes, this year Russia clearly demonstrated that it is not willing to keep providing cheap natural gas and oil to its only ally in Europe, nor to keep subsidizing the Belarusian Soviet-style economy. Lukashenko responded by diversifying energy supplies, and even met with the US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo in February as he sought to improve ties with Washington. In spite of that, the US Senate recently passed a resolution which calls for a free, fair, and transparent presidential election in Belarus. Such an act could be interpreted as a signal that Washington does not intend to recognize the election results at any cost. On the other hand, EU leaders were so far relatively restrained with regard to Lukashenko’s behavior, although they could impose another packages of sanctions if the Belarusian leader continues cracking down on protests. 

For Lukashenko, who got used to dealing with Western sanctions, Russia’s position will be of far greater importance. The Russian parliament is apparently divided over recognizing Lukashenko’s victory in the Belarusian presidential election. The Federation Council reportedly sent nine of its members to Minsk to applaud the sixth re-election of the Belarusian leader, while in the State Duma many Members of Parliament openly say that such a president is not needed in Russia’s neighborhood. This is likely a reflection of the current Kremlin’s position regarding Belarus. Russian authorities are aware that a potential fall of Lukashenko would mean the end of the Russia – Belarus Union State, and Russia could eventually get another Ukraine in the region. On the other hand, due to the coronavirus crisis, as well as the global transformation of the energy trade, it is unsustainable for the Kremlin to keep buying Lukashenko’s loyalty by providing cheap oil and gas to Belarus. Even if Russia decides to abandon Lukashenko, which would mean the country could sooner or later leave Russia’s geopolitical orbit, there is no doubt that Kremlin propagandists would portray that as another one of Putin’s magnificent geopolitical victories. 

Since Belarus, unlike Ukraine, does not have any natural resources, it is very unlikely that Russia will try to annex the country or some of its territories. Instead, Moscow and certain Western structures will likely continue to destabilize Belarus so they could eventually achieve their own geopolitical and economic goals. With or without Lukashenko, Belarus will soon have to start transforming its Soviet-style economy. Russian oligarchs and Western corporations could be the main beneficiaries in the post-Lukashenko Belarus. 

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1 comment

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Aranhas August 12, 2020 at 3:35 pm

Belarus. Russia’s Tibet. They will end up with it. Why? Who knows how an imperialist mind works.

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