Belarus can face a series of mass protests if the Central Election Commission bans key opposition candidates from running in the presidential election scheduled for August 9. Belarusian authorities warn the situation in the country is heating up, and President Alexander Lukashenko has pledged to prevent Ukraine-style street demonstrations.
“I want to warn all those ‘Maidan fanatics’ that there will be no Maidans in Belarus,” the country’s leader stressed, referring to the violent demonstrations in Ukraine’s capital Kyiv in 2013 and 2014 that resulted in the overthrow of allegedly pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych. In addition, Belarus’ First Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs Gennady Kazakevich said in a Belarus 1 TV channel interview that chairpersons of the election commissions started receiving threats.
“We see that the situation is seriously heating up. We are not talking about one-off violations of public order or electoral legislation. Often we see planned, prepared actions,” Kazakevich said, according to BelTA news agency.
As Reuters reported, police have arrested two of Lukashenko’s opponents in recent days. One of them is a popular vlogger Syarhey Tsikhanouski who did not initially hide the fact that he enters the campaign with one major goal – to launch protests. Since he was banned from running, his wife Svitlana Tsikhanouskaya now aims to be registered as a presidential candidate. In Minsk people reportedly waited for hours to give their signature to her and other opposition candidates. Viktor Babariko, former head of the local unit of Russia’s Gazprombank, has already secured 85,000 out of 100,000 signatures needed to get on the ballot. However, since elections in Belarus are merely a simulation of democratic procedures, the Central Election Commission can easily refuse to register Tsikhanouskaya and Babariko, or any opposition figures, and prevent them from running against Lukashenko. On the other hand, even if the elections were free, Lukashenko would certainly win. Unlike the opposition that mostly repeats mantras about democratization of the country, he promises to preserve sovereignty and ensure stability.
“Some opposition figures want to sell cheap everything that was created not only by the government, but also by the people. This is inadmissible”, Lukashenko said.
In other words, he accused the opposition of aiming to privatize successful Belarusian companies by selling them either to Russian oligarchs or to Western corporations. That is something that Lukashenko has been refusing to do for the past 26 years. However, given the fact that Russia clearly demonstrated it is not willing to keep subsidizing the Belarusian economy by providing cheap oil and gas, eventually Lukashenko may have to sell some state-owned enterprises in order to fill budget holes. Also, the loans he is now taking, either from China or from global financial institutions, can weaken his position in the long term. The country’s external debt is expected to grow, which will radically reduce Lukashenko’s possibilities for political balance between Russia and the West.
At this point, the West is apparently ready to financially support Belarus in exchange for Lukashenko’s anti-Russian course. As an experienced politician, he is quite aware there is no free lunch, which means that any potential Western help will be rather conditional. Lukashenko seems to be ready to take the money, but not to provide any firm guarantees to the West. Still, his rhetoric regarding Russia will likely be increasingly hostile in the years to come. The Kremlin, on the other hand, will unlikely change its energy policy toward Belarus, but at the same time it will try not to cause the complete collapse of the Belarusian economy, as that could pave the way for radically pro-Western groups to eventually come to power in Minsk.
As long as Lukashenko is in charge, any “Maidans” in Belarus are very improbable to happen. Even though repeating previous crackdowns on dissent could damage his efforts to improve ties with the West, he will certainly not allow foreign powers to force a regime change in his country. His main problem is not a potential revolution, but biology. He is 65, and sooner or later he will have to leave. It is unlikely that he will be replaced by an equally strong and charismatic figure who has such a comprehensive control over the situation in the country. Therefore, any Maidan-style coups in Minsk are possible only in post-Lukashenko Belarus.