Author: Maurizio Vezzosi – 10/09/2020
After Aleksandr Lukašenko again won the Belarusian Presidential election in August, having served as President since 1994, huge protests occurred in Belarus. The official results gave him about 80%, while his main competitor, 38-year-old Svetlana Tikhanovskaja, ended up with a meager 10%. Even considering the riggings denounced by the opposition and by most Western governments, Lukašenko ’s consensus still appears relevant, higher than the opposition’s one, however organized.
Belarus is about the only ex-USSR country that avoided wild privatizations and large-scale de-industrialization (unlike Baltic countries, Ukraine, and Russian Federation itself), and still has a much lower corruption level than the other former Soviet countries. This is a result of Lukasenko’s zero tolerance policy, and Belarus still enjoys a high stability and social security.
Considering the Ukrainian lesson and the post-Soviet history of the 90’s, we have to analyse closer the opposition’s goals and its alternative policies. The opponents are demanding more civil rights and formal democracy, radically rejecting Lukašenko, associated with the Soviet legacy and with the symbiotic – although fractious – link with Moscow. Hence liberals, libertarians, nationalists and filo-fascists from Ukraine are gathering under the white and red flags, inheritance of a Polish-Ukrainian tradition and of a pro-German attitude.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Minsk and Moscow often quarrelled, mostly about the prices of the raw material Kremlin supplied to Belarus. During the troubled 90s these supplies guaranteed industrial production and the most effective welfare state of all former USSR countries, as well as one of the lowest unemployment levels anywhere in Europe.
While Moscow cannot allow Belarus to become a second Ukraine, Lukašenko must also keep the fractious friendship with the Russian Federation. His unsuccessful efforts to pose as a mediator between Moscow and his Polish, Baltic and Ukrainian neighbours, earned him an awkward position, criticized by those he tried to reconcile. The current crisis could mend the recent conflicts with Moscow – when Belarus decided to buy oil in the USA – and speed up the integration project that Belarus and the Russian Federation signed between 1999 and 2000.
The attempt to delegitimize at all costs a president that is both resolute and scarcely interested in the laws of liberal democracy, but still legitimate, has been confirmed by the official position of the European Union and by Angel Merkel herself. But such an attempt could even bring the country to a military scenario, if Lukašenko ’s dismissal was forced. Belarusian armed forces are at maximum alert level, while troop movements have occurred on both sides of the border among Belarus, Poland and Lithuania.
The EU seems to be approving new sanctions against Minsk and probably against Moscow, after those still going on since 2014 (annexation of Crimea).
The Belarus events are detaching The Western Europe from Moscow, linking the main European governments to the US positions. The visit of State Secretary Mike Pompeo to Poland confirmed the strategic entente between Washington and Warsaw, while much is depending on the ongoing US elections. Pompeo – the first US State Secretary to visit Belarus – suggested last February to Lukašenko that he should diversify his supplies by buying oil from the USA.
China also wants to avoid an unstable Belarus. Besides being the third commercial partner of Belarus, after the Russian Federation and Ukraine, China has recently massively invested in Minsk’s economy. The biggest industrial enterprise in Europe financed by Chinese capitals – 6000workers – is in Belarus. The country’s geographic position is also important, for land transport from Pacific to Atlantic, and from Baltic to Black Sea. The Belarus East-West route facilitates avoidance of Ukraine, where a low-intensity civil war is still ongoing
Originally published in Italian by the online magazine “ by Atlante Treccani, 20th August 2020
The author – Maurizio Vezzosi – is an Italian freelance analyst and reporter based in Rome