Instability in Belarus continues and the people continue to protest against the Lukashenko regime. What does this mean for the country and what could be the reaction of neighboring Russia? About it in the show “The world in your pocket” We discussed with Artūrs Bikovs, a researcher at the Latvian Institute of Foreign Policy, and Beāti Livdansk, a researcher at the Eastern European Policy Research Center.
Could Russia use military force to support Lukashenko?
Livdanska points out that Russia is currently holding a relatively wait-and-see position. It is possible that Putin himself will wait until Lukashenko will end the painful situation and then potentially offer some further development scenarios. However, if the protests do not subside, Russia could come to the rescue and help Lukashenko suppress the protests. However, then another important question arises – what will Russia want in return? It is possible that in such a scenario, Russia could put pressure on Belarus to find its consent to the project of closer integration of the two countries. This would then make Belarus directly dependent on Russia. It is possible that in a utopian scenario we could also talk about a single state. In any case, Russia is very actively watching what is happening in Belarus.
Artūrs Bikovs, a researcher at the Latvian Institute of Foreign Policy, points out that for the time being the situation in Belarus is developing quite favorably for Russia and Lukashenko’s position is still stable.
Consequently, there is no particular need to offer military assistance. On the other hand, if the Lukashenko regime collapses, another factor could deter Russian military intervention. In this case, it is a question of the reluctance of the Russian people to get involved in new conflicts. It is also not good for Moscow to provoke a new backlash from the European Union and the United States.
Could a civil war break out in Belarus?
Bikov expresses the opinion that such a scenario is unlikely to materialize. However, much will depend on how well the Lukashenko regime is able to dose violence against the people. For example, during the Ukrainian revolution, the use of disproportionate force by President Yanukovych encouraged more and more people to take to the streets. It is possible that Lukashenko has learned from Yanukovych’s negative experience.
Livdansk, in turn, believes that the current leader of the Belarusian opposition, Svetlana Tikhanovska, has left the protesters without a center of power with her departure from the country. The protests are now much more spontaneous and unfocused. This, in turn, reduces the power of demonstrations and the possibility of people agreeing around him.
Why did Tikhanovsky leave the country?
Livdansk recalls that Tikhanovsky began his career as a presidential candidate after the arrest of her husband by the Belarusian authorities. In recent days, however, the authorities have threatened to deprive her of her children. Following these threats, she decided to send the children safely to a Member State of the European Union. However, in terms of respect for her husband and the people of Belarus in general, she decided not to step down from the political scene. Lithuania was chosen as a place of refuge because of its geographical location – it is closer. In addition, there is a fairly good relationship between the societies of the two countries.
Could Lukashenko’s Belarusian security forces split?
In the current protests, it has been seen in many cases that Belarusian security guards are refusing to turn on the demonstrators and placing their shields in front of them. Similarly, election observers from the Central Election Commission in many cases report on the real situation regarding electoral fraud.
Livdanska points out that if such internal resistance to Lukashenko’s power continues, his position will be endangered to such an extent that he could be overthrown by society.
The fact that Lukashenko depends on the security authorities under him, not the other way around, is to his detriment here. So far, all this is only on a case-by-case basis.
Why did Lukashenko use force? Wasn’t it more profitable to let the protests subside on their own?
According to Livdansk, Lukashenko was preparing for a step of violence long before the elections. Unlike his opponents, Babariko, Tihanovska and others, who addressed the people before the vote, the Belarusian dictator turned to the state security structures. Likewise, in his rhetoric, Lukashenko often referred to the external threat to Belarus’ sovereignty. It symbolized the country’s development path in the event of resistance.
Lukashenko’s next term – the most difficult so far
Both scholars agree that if Lukashenko manages to maintain his power, his next years of rule will be very difficult.
He will have to devote a great deal of energy to maintaining the support of the political elite (mainly security structures). These security structures must not see him as a person who can simply be replaced. Otherwise, he will lose power very quickly. Lukashenko will also need to carry out a number of facade reforms that would create the illusion of greater democracy in Belarus. Livdanska recalls that the release of political prisoners is a medicine often used by the president. Bikov points out that changes in the government and the state constitution, which would determine the election procedure, would also be possible.