Lukashenko’s appearance in Minsk wearing body armor and carrying the assault rifle, while welcoming and congratulating the Belarusian special police forces AMAP on the streets of the city was comprehensively covered by pro-government media. Also on the 27th of August Lukashenko in his address to the public has said once more that hybrid war is conducted against Belarus and blamed neighboring Poland in its willingness to take over the Grodno region, stating that the West is escalating situation in the country. On the same day, another authoritarian ruler of the neighboring Russian Federation has stated that he has already created the reserve force requested by Lukashenko, which will be used when necessary. He also supported AMAP forces in their actions against ‘radicals’.
All these movements of frightened dictators are clear signals that they are ready to fight for their power no matter at what cost it can be secured. Possible success of the ‘New Belarus’ possess a clear threat to the current existing political regime, which is why Lukashenko with the support from the Russian side will redouble his efforts to ‘normalize’ the situation. Realizing that the current political elite in Belarus is willing to sacrifice its own nation and state for the sake of securing its privileged position, the European community should be prepared for different kinds of destabilization in the region, and the experience of at least three scenarios should be taken into account as regards Belarus.
Firstly, an example of Venezuela illustrates how falsified elections after decades of authoritarian rule lead to dual power when both the opposition leader and the authoritarian president are recognized by a different number of countries according to traditional geopolitical lines. Such division leads the country to further economic downturn as the internal processes in the country become an object of bargaining between these opposite geopolitical forces. Here it is apparent, that if the Russian Federation has had resources to fight for their interest in a distant Venezuela, then they are going to push much more effort in allied Belarus. What is more, various sanctions other than those, that are direct sources of income for the regime and affiliated families are rather ineffective, as they hurt the local population more than the regime itself. Although Belarus is not Venezuela because Lukashenko does not have inner resources for sustaining its economic model and his political regime, the fact that these resources come from Russian Federation illustrates only the insolvency of Lukashenko’s state. Consequently, in order to avoid harsh social and economic stance of the country without Lukashenko, the European Union should prepare to provide extensive trade benefits to the country, and the opposition should present a detailed plan of changes of the current economic model of the state, which is so far due to specificity of Belarus economy and stance of the protest itself, is unlikely to happen.
Secondly, it is visible right now that paradoxically the most powerful unifying factor in the country remains to be Alexander Lukashenko. Protests are driven by the notion of ‘fatigue’ from him and his surroundings, without much understanding and planning of what kind of country they want to build after Lukashenko. The situation is exacerbated by the fact that many protesters see no danger from the Russian side, while still a smaller fraction of national anti-Russian forces are also supporting the protest. Considering that, we can easily compare it to the situation of post-war Libya, where after an opposition victory over Muammar Qaddafi, we have observed a sudden fragmentation of the country and the Libyan people into antagonistic groups, which lead to the Civil war. In Belarus, such a line of division is already taking place, from my perspective, as the caste of military and special forces, so-called ‘Siloviki’, who is currently the most important state institution and main pillar of the regime, will protect their interests even without Lukashenko. Although, until official protest leaders are accused by different players to be associated with Russian Federation, and there is no real plan from the side of civil society on how to deal with Putin, who refuses to accept any kind of Belarus, other than a ‘slightly different’ Russia, the small fraction of ‘nationalists’ would also remain dissatisfied with results of the protest. What is more, local oligarchs after the collapse of the current regime may also start to play their own games, due to the nature of their business structures the possibility that these games would be pro-Independent or pro-Western is very narrow. From that perspective, standing equally distant from both the regime and current opposition, but offering any kind of support and solidarity within various channels to ordinary people of Belarus, seems to be a wise strategy for the EU.
Finally, the third scenario which could be the most likely due to the similar historical backgrounds of both countries and Russian interest in both of them is also the same, namely, to build there a ‘slightly different’ Russia. Lukashenko is surely right, when he speaks about a hybrid war against Belarus, but the source of this war was his regime. By now, the difference between the situation in Ukraine and Belarus is in the power of instruments with which the Russian Federation is ready to conduct a war. In Ukraine, this was the Russian military base and war fleet in Sevastopil, that allowed to occupy the Crimean Peninsula, within several days, while in Belarus Russian military contingent is much more powerful and is stationed on several military bases. They were accepted under the propaganda of deterrence of the mythical NATO threat, but now there is a risk for Belarussian society to see that the only reason and aim of positioning those forces in the country is deterrence of the local population itself. In that regard, being armed with the experience of Ukraine, the EU must put greater efforts to forestall the crisis and to show the current Russian authority by preventive measures that they cannot start another war in East-Central Europe.
However, despite the readiness of Lukashenko to fight for their regimes, keys to stability and prosperity lie in the hands of people of Belarus, rather than in Moscow or Brussels. Solidarity of all, together with unity around a common set of goals, more extensive search for allies and common awareness that in their struggle for freedom, liberty, equality and other values of the free world, people of Belarus are fighting not against Alexander Lukashenko and his surroundings, but against Putin’s Russia, their national identity and stability of the whole Europe. The question remains, how quickly such awareness will become the central narrative of the protest, otherwise, future Belarus will value not more than some other distant regions of the Russian Federation?
The EU should learn from its role in Libya’s chaos before getting too involved in Belarus ǀ View by Niall McGlynn, 26 August 2020, available at https://www.euronews.com/2020/08/26/the-eu-should-learn-from-its-role-in-libya-s-chaos-before-getting-too-involved-in-belarus
Belarus – a European Nation Reborn, by Wojciech Przybylski, 24 August 2020 , available at: https://visegradinsight.eu/belarus-european-nation-reborn/