“Freezing the War Would Be Ideal for Lukashenka”
Lukashenka presents himself to his people as a guarantor of peace, and his regime seems solid – as long as Russia does not lose the war in Ukraine.
A citizen of Belarus has received a Nobel Prize these days – after the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2013 – for the second time since the country’s independence: Ales Bialiatski is one of the winners of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize. He is a legend of the Belarusian human rights movement, and in prison – as is to be expected for a human rights activist in today’s Belarus.
Nobel Peace Prize for Ales Bialiatski
The Nobel Peace Prize this year was also awarded to Russian and Ukrainian human rights activists. Not everyone in Ukraine was happy about the Nobel Committee’s decision. At a time when Russian bombs and missiles fired from Belarus are also killing Ukrainians, the reservations about being on a list with citizens of aggressor states are understandable from an emotional point of view. Even when the laureates are people who have spent their entire lives fighting against those regimes responsible for this war.
Russia’s war against Ukraine will also determine the fate of Belarus
For Belarus, this Nobel Prize holds much fewer contradictions: There is no doubt that the fates of the three East Slavic peoples are intertwined. And it is not just the irony here that the first Belarusian Nobel Prize winner, the writer Svetlana Alexievich, was born in Ukraine, and the second, Ales Bialiatski, in Russia. What is more important is the fact that Russia’s war against Ukraine will not only determine the future of Ukraine and Russia, but also decide the fate of Belarus.
“A foreign policy in the direction of the West practically no longer exists”
After Belarusian autocrat Alexander Lukashenka crushed civil society following the 2020 protests, he has become even more dependent on the Kremlin. A foreign policy in the direction of the West practically no longer exists The sanctions imposed for human rights violations, the forced landing of the Ryanair aircraft (in order to be able to arrest the activist Roman Protasevich on board), the artificial creation of a migration crisis at the external borders of the EU and, finally, participation in the war have caused the volume of trade between Belarus and the West to shrink to a fraction. Russia has become not only the most important sales market, but also the only transit corridor for a large part of Belarusian exports to other countries.
Solidified vassal relationship between Russia and Belarus
The presence of Russian forces in Belarus has further strengthened the existing vassal relationship between Belarus and Russia. Some opposition voices are even calling for Belarus to be classified as occupied territory. This may not yet be the case from an international law perspective, but the ability of the government in Minsk to act as an independent subject is much less than it was before the war or before 2020.
Lukashenka cannot call for the withdrawal of Russian forces from his territory, and apparently, he cannot control what they do there. Even if he wanted to comply with Western conditions again in future in order to free himself from isolation, he would have to keep an eye on the Russian troop contingent in his own country. In total, however, his signals toward the West are not to be taken very seriously, since it is not clear which signals he is sending himself and which ones are sent on behalf of the Kremlin.
It is difficult to imagine a revival of Belarusian domestic politics under Lukashenka, who relies on a military machine and economic subsidies from the Kremlin. As long as Russia remains willing and able to support Lukashenka, the regime in Belarus seems relatively immune to shocks. While there is always a risk of a spontaneous regime collapse if the leader dies or becomes seriously ill, such scenarios are difficult to predict.
“Freezing the war would be ideal for Lukashenka”
Russia’s ability and willingness to keep Lukashenka under its guardianship directly depends on the course of the war in Ukraine. A complete victory by Moscow does not seem likely today. Any freezing of the conflict over a long term, however, without political upheaval in Russia, would be an ideal outcome for Lukashenka. For it would mean that Moscow would continue to need Belarus as a military deployment area to maintain the threat level against Ukraine and the entire region. And it would then be necessary to invest in the stability of this deployment area. The related cost would be relatively small, and even the stagnant Russian economy would be able to absorb it.
Growing support and ostensible pacifism of the Lukashenka regime
If he succeeds in keeping his army out of the war in Ukraine, Lukashenka could continue to present himself to the population as the guarantor of peace in Belarus. This ostensible pacifism of Lukashenka in communicating with his people (which contrasts with the rhetoric the world knows from him) is having some effect. Opinion polls since February 2022 show that 85–95% of Belarusians oppose the participation of their own army in the war. Without easy access to independent media, which has been expelled or blocked by the regime – many people in Belarus are unaware that their country is already involved in the war against Ukraine. As a result, part of the population is willing to put aside their earlier resentment of the regime if their country – seemingly – stays out of the war in return. Some polls even indicate that support for the Lukashenka regime among the previously neutral part of society increased after the war began.
However, the views of the other part of society – the staunch supporters of the protests (who have remained in the country or emigrated) – developed in the opposite direction: They are not willing to come to terms with the regime, especially in light of the war, and their rejection is becoming increasingly radical. Studies reveal that, unlike in 2020, when peaceful protests were the main focus, the desire for a violent solution to the crisis in Belarus has increased sharply among opponents of the regime. Belarusian volunteers fighting in Ukraine talk about the need to get rid of the Lukashenka regime by force.
War in Ukraine as a “window of opportunity”?
However, even in the opposition it is conceded that romantic plans for a liberation campaign against Minsk are nothing but fantasy as long as Lukashenka’s regime is strong and enjoys Russia’s support. The opposition will only become capable of acting within the country when the regime is already weakened for other reasons, the elites are without guidance and the machinery of the security forces no longer works. The war in Ukraine could create such a “window of opportunity”, either through direct involvement of the Belarusian army, which would be extremely unpopular in all parts of society, or through a defeat of Moscow, on which Lukashenka is financially dependent.
Fundamental change in the situation if Russia loses the war
If Russia loses or is significantly weakened by the war, the situation for Lukashenka could change fundamentally. He would then no longer be able to rely on generous external support and appease his people with his perceived non-participation in the war. The regime would then either have to look for new ways to unfreeze relations with the West or hope that its repressive apparatus would be able to suppress any protests, even economically motivated ones. Either way, a destabilisation of the regime is likely to follow the same model that led to the collapse of communist regimes in Eastern Europe in the late 1980s after the USSR failed as a geopolitical protector.
It could be years before such scenarios become reality, and currently Belarusian civil society does not have much room to manoeuvre in the country. Political prisoners such as Ales Bialiatski are hostages of the Belarusian regime – the rest of the country is hostage to the question of how the war between the two neighbouring countries will end.
Hat Ihnen unser Beitrag gefallen? Dann spenden Sie doch einfach und bequem über unser Spendentool. Sie unterstützen damit die publizistische Arbeit von LibMod.
Spenden mit Bankeinzug
Spenden mit PayPal
Wir sind als gemeinnützig anerkannt, entsprechend sind Spenden steuerlich absetzbar. Für eine Spendenbescheinigung (nötig bei einem Betrag über 200 EUR), senden Sie Ihre Adressdaten bitte an email@example.com
Mit dem LibMod-Newsletter erhalten Sie regelmäßig Neuigkeiten zu unseren Themen in Ihr Postfach.