Will Alexander Lukashenko Outsmart Everybody Again?

Alexander Lukashenko, ‘the last European dictator’, who has been ruling Belarus for over a quarter of the century is demonstrating a miracle of geopolitical survival. Although it is stated that the country under his control e…

Alexander Lukashenko, ‘the last European dictator’, who has been ruling Belarus for over a quarter of the century is demonstrating a miracle of geopolitical survival. Although it is stated that the country under his control economically is dependent on Russia, A. Lukashenka is forming some kind of sovereignty rhetoric and sometimes he even manages to take over the initiative from Moscow. We have another question – what is the price for all this?
Coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic that struck the whole world recently is like a test-paper in this story. The same Russia finally chose the way of quarantine, although it looked rather weird at the beginning. We can recall that head of the country Vladimir Putin announced a week-off at the end of March and later this period was extended to a one-month period. Business people found themselves in the weirdest situation. They were not able to work at all, but had to pay salaries to their hired employees.    .
We can say that the danger of coronavirus has been ignored in Belarus. Rhetoric of minimization of this challenge was getting from the lips of A.Lukashenko. Besides, it was told that Belarus chose a so-called ’Swedish version’ (Sweden refused to have a strict quarantine), although it was stated that actually Minsk did not apply the restrictions that had been applied in Sweden. In other words, it has not been adoption of the model, but simple imitation of it.  
Finally, A. Lukashenko told once why Belarus has not introduced strict restrictions. Actually he told that the economy of the country simply would not withstand the situation of quarantine. He mentioned about this during his visit in Gomel region at the end of April.
We should mention that this ‘rather free’ A. Lukashenko’s policy had its outcomes. On 1 June over 40 thousand people were infected with COVID-19 and according to the information of 12 June – over 53 thousand. According to the number of cases per one thousand population Belarus is among ‘top’ fifteen countries.     
We have an interesting aspect that A. Lukashenko attempted to make use of the situation to his benefit. Belarus was the only state in the post-Soviet area, which organized the parade of 9 May (among those that celebrate this date). For comparison, Russia that always emphasizes its Victory in the Great Patriotic War and made a real propaganda extravaganza out of it, had to postpone the events of the Victory day (although there are information that Russia was also preparing for the parade almost up to the last moment). In this way Minsk managed to take over the initiative, although the Kremlin actually has not given up its idea to commemorate 75 anniversary of the Victory in a pompous way. Now a traditional parade in the Red Square in Moscow is planned on 24 June.    
The leader of Belarus also has to solve his relevant political challenges. New presidential election is approaching that should be held on 9 August. Actually, there are no doubts that the elections in Belarus are rigged. On the other hand, Minsk always tries to suppress all representatives of the opposition, to reduce their participation in the official political field to the minimum. This year this task might be even more relevant, because people’s fear of coronavirus and respectively dissatisfaction with the government is growing. The current and ‘irreplaceable’ president of Belarus may be afraid of social explosion.  
They say that in elections A. Lukashenko can have a very serious competitor. We are talking about Victor Babaryk, Chairman of the Board of the bank . Various web-based surveys show that namely he can be called the leader of pre-election battle (of course, if we talk about open and fair election). More than 400 thousand signatures have already been collected in his favour (whereas not less than 100 thousand signatures are necessary for registration of the candidate).
The official Minsk has not left V. Babryk without any attention. They say that his members of the team are persecuted (e.g. coordinator of the initiative group of Mogilev region was arrested). Government of Belarus was exerting pressure on , too. 15 current and former employees of the bank were arrested and searches were made in its premises.    
As it has been mentioned above, there are no doubts that in August the Central Electoral Commission will fabricate such figures that A. Lukashenko needs. On the other hand, in case of a rough falsification and increase of political activity of Belarus and dissatisfaction with ‘timeless’ A. Lukashenko power, the risk of social and also political explosion is growing.
We have one more aspect – A. Lukashenko now can try as much as possible to force the processes and secure his political security for the nearest management cycle, making the use of the fact that Russia, that future of Belarus mostly depends on, now is busy with other matters.      
It is worth mentioning that at the end of 2019 Moscow remembered the idea of deep integration with Belarus and started pushing it actively in the geopolitical field. A. Lukashenko and his team could not resist it openly, but we could see that the leader of Belarus was trying to sabotage the initiative of ‘marriage’ of two countries suggested by Russia in a quiet manner. Of course, the issue of integration has not disappeared from the agenda, however at the time being the Kremlin is interested in other things. The main of them is amendments to the Constitution, which inter alia would open a way for V. Putin to hold the position of the President until 2036. Voting for amendments is so important to Moscow that quarantine was cancelled because of them, although COVID-19 statistics in Russia is not the most favourable for such a decision. Thus, to make a long story short, while the Kremlin is solving its problems, A. Lukashenka can solve its own problems. Here we can remember that the idea to postpone presidential election in Belarus for a later period was rejected when the same pandemic situation gets better.      
We have to remind again that A. Lukashenko is an experienced player in the geopolitical field despite of everything, who has had matters with pressure of Russia not for the first decade. He succeeded to live out several estrangements of relations between Russia (as a rule A. Lukashenko used to blackmail the Kremlin with empty threats to get closer to the West). At a certain time people talked that Moscow may try to replace a tough leader of Belarus with a more favourable politician, however this scenario has not been implemented so far. Thus, we might just guess whether A. Lukashenko will outwit everybody this time, too.    
On the other hand, even ‘the timeless’ president is not actually timeless. Don’t forget circumstances that voting in regards to amendments to the Constitution in Russia is planned from 25 June to 1 July and presidential election in Belarus will take place on 9 August. After the Kremlin settles its own matters, it can have enough time to play a major role in matters of Belarus. Again, how this can be done is another question. Moscow has its tools in this area. For instance, observers from Russia and other CIS countries, who usually have positive opinion on a ‘democratic level’ of elections in Belarus, may suddenly claim that actually the election was not free and democratic (which again, might be a signal to the opposition of Belarus that Moscow is tired of A.Lukshenko, too). Finally, the Kremlin like the so-called unsuspected steps and here it is hard to tell for what merits Moscow can sacrifice its ‘friend’ in Minsk – because of integration disagreements or overtaken initiative of celebration of 9 May (don’t devaluate the revenge of the Kremlin).   
Of course, everything here is just obscure prognosis and one of potential versions of the future. Soon we will see what actually happens.
Viktor Denisenko

Voras Online
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