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Foreign Policy

Scenario 2: Strengthening of Lukashenko and assertive Russia

The narrative which associated Alexander Lukashenko with the state functioning prevails; the sustainability of state institutions for the sake of sovereignty becomes the central motive to stop protests.

In February, the all-Belarusian National Assembly provided a plan for constitutional reform that on the one hand is intended to give more political wage to Lukashenko, and at the same time delivers Russian narrative of limiting protests success. The central interest for the Russian state is to prevent a very dangerous precedent of a successful protest movement, that would dismantle an entrenched authoritarian regime. Protests triggered by the arrest of Alexey Navalny are showing that the liberal part of Russian society supports the Belarusian protest. Further politicization of Russian civil society and its consolidation appears to be the main threat for the current political regime, therefore its activity in Belarus will focus on ‘normalization’.

One line of such preventive defense would be an abolishment of possibilities of direct communication with Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya and Members of the Coordination Board. The denial of her electoral result, together with a continuation of an oppressive machine, will be aiming at sweeping political opposition since the propaganda machine is working on the image of the hostile pro-Western character of the protests, aiming at selling off national wealth and deterioration of the state. Although, because Lukashenko has been monopolizing relations with the Russian ally, there is no pro-Russian opposition leader, who could potentially substitute Lukashenko. Hence, the Russian Federation will be assisting Lukashenko in constitutional reforms for the sake of sustaining the existing authoritarian state, that will enhance his internal position, and the whole vertical of power, mainly by the offering of credit funds.

However, the general dissatisfaction with Lukashenko – together with geopolitical setbacks in other directions – will compel Russia to force Lukashenko for rapid ‘integration’, as it was once proposed by Putin ‘to merge Russian Federation by regions’. The positive result of a referendum with such a question regarding integration would likely not be supported by the people of Belarus. However, it could be falsified. The probability of such an open confrontation, that may require military activity from the Russian side in the region is small, as it would mean further tensions with the West, especially more harsh sanctions. The probability that they are going to be painful is even higher due to the new Biden administration, whose attitude towards the support of the democratic transition is stronger than that of his predecessor.  This is why Russia is going to use Lukashenko to impose its policies on the state.

In other words, Lukashenko’s strengthening will happen at the cost of Belarusian sovereignty. The Russian Federation will help to deal with the Coronavirus pandemic, by providing Belarus with vaccines and mass vaccination; various economic and trade benefits (in a form of cheaper prices on energy supplies) would also help the existing economic model to overcome the crisis. This implies the retention of stability at the cost of future development, since the absolute dependence of Lukashenko on Moscow will restrain the state from any actual development, preserving the state’s authoritarian and criminal regime. The dissatisfaction of protest desires will deepen the existing crisis.

The similar structural economic problems of crediting unprofitable enterprises, state directive regulation of the medical and banking sphere, would continue to make them ineffective – with the FDI to both sectors tending to zero. The internal demand would fall, the IT and medical workers would stably migrate from the country, the worsening of the IT sector would negatively impact the services industry and might lead to the collapse of real estate prices. But to those economic problems, the institutional dependence on the Russian Federation would have to be added, which could cause a new societal confrontation.

Consequently, the strengthening of the Lukashenko regime by the means of extended Russian support would mean the end of Belarus sovereignty: the country would become fully dependent on Moscow, without any perspectives for the reform and social and economic improvement. Hence, the only feasible mechanism to prevail in such a scenario is the awareness of the protestors that their actual enemy is not Alexander Lukashenko, but Vladimir Putin. Moreover, the strength of the words of Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya and Members of the Coordination Board in the international arena will be directly determined by the power of protest and strike movements.

By Ihor Bobyr

I am a student of BA in International Relations and European Studies at Lazarski University. My main research interests are democratization on post-Soviet space, European Integration, ethical and religious conflicts, political conflicts, and historical traumas.

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