“President of the OMON”
The protests in Belarus started during the elections day on 9 August 2020 and remain active till this day. The main reasons of Belarussian protests were caused by electoral fraud in the country by incumbent president Alexander Lukashenko, arrest of opposition presidential candidates, and economic and social policies of the government. In the response to the protests, Lukashenko has cut the internet and electricity (the main possibility to communicate among citizens for several days was Telegram – a cloud-based instant messaging, video and voice over IP service, established by Russian entrepreneur, who escaped from Russia due to his libertarian views), blocked the capital of Belarus and started to intimidate his own population. The main goal of Lukashenko still seems to be the full obedience of people, which he tries to reach by capturing most active protesters and torturing them in prisons. He does not seem to be adequate and under no circumstances confirms the loss of the elections. Anyway, why did he infuriate his own population with such ridiculous results of these elections? Maybe it would be wiser to ascribe himself instead of 80% of votes 55% and give 30-35% to his main opponent – Sviatlana Tikhanouskaya? Why would he show such overwhelming injustice in the state and inspire people to start massive protests? Additionally, his questionable policy against Covid-19 indicates on his incompetence of governing. All of these undermines his adequacy as he even can’t accurately forge the results as he did before knowing that there was a big probability of the protests. For this stage, being in power seems to be the only way of living for Lukashenko and that does not coincide with the wishes of Belarusian people.
The main policy of Lukashenko to retain his governance is associated with fearing measures, meaning that he wants to reach the humility of the people by capturing the most active protesters and by ruthless treatment with them in the prisons. Using special-purpose militia detachments – OMON, Lukashenko tries to spread fear among Belarussian population and reduce the willingness of Belarussians to continue protests. He appears every day in the public with showing that he is not going to surrender and the recent videos where he is flying by helicopter to his residence wearing a bulletproof vest and holding a Kalashnikov AKS-74U assault rifle proves that the president is ready for the most extreme measures. Additionally, Lukashenko plays “anti-Western card” to promote military mobilization. He ensures the population of Belarus that pro-Western forces want to encourage one more “colored revolution” that happened in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan. It is generally accepted that “colored revolutions” are mass riots and protests by the population of a country, which are carried out with the support of foreign non-governmental organizations and are aimed at a non- violent change of the political regime. However, the main goals of the protesters do not coincide with the usual scenario of “colored revolutions” as basically it is not about the choice between Russia and the West, people of Belarus either do not initiate protests against pro- Russian regime in Belarus or do not demand joining NATO or the EU (it will be hard to find any EU flag during daily protests in Belarus) their main goal is resignation of Alexander Lukashenko and his government, release of political prisoners and new fair presidential elections.
Another Maidan in the post-Soviet region?
While military forces are completely mobilized in the country and even military troops appeared in major cities of Belarus, Lukashenko strongly spreads the information about “the Belarussian Maidan” fearing the people with the same scenario as in Ukraine meaning a large amount of casualties in the state, instability, economic crisis and the division of the state as it happened with Ukraine. Well, theoretically, it might happen if we take as a split point among Belarusian population an old Polish-Soviet border of the period 1921-1939. In general, there is an opinion that the inhabitants of the west of Belarus are more susceptible to European norms and values, they are more cultured and educated, etc., but in practice one can observe both confirmation and refutation of this stereotype. The only difference between Belarussians of the West and East can be considered as ethno-confessional. Many ethnic Poles live in the west of Belarus, in addition, Western Belarus has a large number of Roman Catholics, however, the existing ethno-confessional stratification is not as acute as in Ukraine, where it stimulated ethno-political discord. Secondly, there is no such power in Belarus that could provide support for the long-term existence of the protest camp. There are no forces within the republic that could financially support the protesters. There is practically no private capital in Belarus, and if there is, then it is formed, as a rule, due to preferences from the authorities. Probably more than 80% of the emergence of Belarusian capital is in proximity to the president. That is, someone at the right time was given the management of the largest plant, then allowed to privatize it; however, it can be taken away at any time. Additionally, as I already mentioned, the citizens of Belarus do not demand the geopolitical changes in their country, they fight for sovereignty, they do not require European values and standards and there was not any Association Agreement nullification in the state as it happened in Ukraine.
What outcomes of the protests can be expected?
Speaking about the consequences of the ongoing protests in Belarus, one may claim that Russia has extremely important interests in Belarus, hence Russian government will definitely have influence on the current situation in Belarus. Needless to say, Putin does not admire Lukashenko because of his unyielding policy towards Russia, e.g. when Putin had to make constitutional changes in 2020 in order to reset his presidential terms. In fact, previously Putin floated to reunite two states, and become the ruler of both Russia and Belarus, as a result of which he would not have to arrange a circus with nullification of his presidential terms. Consequently, Lukashenko did not yield him and did not agree to be the second person in the state. Anyway, despite all disagreements between two leaders, Putin will not allow protesters in Belarus to “throw off” Lukashenko as it may also have responsiveness in Russia while there are protests against arrest of the former gubernator of Khabarovsk, whose arrest was politically motivated. Tens of thousands of people were estimated to have participated in the protests in Khabarovsk. Considering this fact, the action of “domino effect” is quite relevant as people may see one more revolution in so called “brotherly state” together with Ukraine, and in spite of the fact, that Russia is enormous by its sizes the anti-political sentiments could spread with a frantic spread across Russia. We could agree, that Putin would rather choose the option of a weak Lukashenko in Belarus so he could easily occupy Belarus. In other context, he may lose one more buffer zone in favor of pro-Western forces and large amount of military bases that are in Belarus.
Another ideal scenario for Putin will be overthrowing of Lukashenko and transferring the power to the person who will substitute Lukashenko in illiberal governance of the country but will completely obey to Putin. To my mind, it will not be complicated for Putin as at this moment there is not any strongly coordinated opposition in Belarus. However, there is coordination council that was created 9 days after the elections were held and for Putin getting his own agent into this Council will not be tough, probably he already did it if we consider the fact that one of the main figures of the Council is Mariya Kalesnikava, who was the general manager for the presidential campaign of Viktar Babaryka in the run up to the 2020 Belarusian presidential elections. Nowadays Viktar Babaryka remains in the prison and is referred to be as a political prisoner but before imprisonment he used to be the ruler of “Belgazprombank” (affiliated to “gazprombank” company) and this information does not remain out-of-the-way. Considering abovementioned fact, it is extremely meaningful for Belarussians right now to choose correct leader of the opposition.
Additionally, we should also consider the fact that Putin may also send some provokers to Belarus, who will ignite a war. Afterwards, Russia will have reason to interfere to Belarus as a strategic ally and member of Union State of Russia and Belarus.
Another scenario out of the Belarusian crisis could be the same as in Venezuela, when pro- Western states supported ex-president of the National Assembly of Venezuela – Guaido and such autocratic states as Russia, Iran and Turkey supported incumbent president Maduro. For this moment, in Belarus there is no one who could oppose himself to Lukashenko, as Sviatlana Tikhanouskaya and her colleagues do not represent strong political personalities, but sooner or later such power will appear. This type of scenario will be the worst for the country due to the fact that it will last for a long period and considering the economic situation in the state that was even worsened after covid-19 and adding to that economic sanctions from the EU, the hunger, devastation and emigration of thousands is expected. According to the fact that all EU members do not accept the results of the elections, such neighboring economic partners of Belarus as Poland, Lithuania and Latvia will block economic ties with Belarus. Probably Ukraine will also follow the steps of those countries as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine has already summoned Ambassador to Belarus Igor Kizim to Kiev for consultations. At the same time, Alexander Lukashenko repeatedly and completely groundlessly is accusing Ukraine of unfriendly steps against Belarus.
Last but not least scenario is also associated with an economic crisis of Belarus as the revolution that is driven by enthusiasm of the people may reach its pique and a massive strike of factories, those that some time ago were considered to be “the pride” of Lukashenko, will stop the country’s economy and join the protesters. Quite many factories and plants have already stopped to work. Hence, people close to Lukashenko will soon start to put pressure on him to negotiate with people, because the security forces also need to be fed. At this moment, journalists call the figure of 50,000-55,000 – the number of security officials in Belarus and this is without taking into account special units, while the amount of military troops in Belarus is about 65,000. Consequently, it will be wise for people to continue peaceful demonstrations and wait the moment till the security forces will receive less remuneration and together with a psychological breakdown (due to the continuous attacks against their own citizens) [they] will go over to the side of the people.
The opinions and conclusions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Foreign Policy Council.