War in Ukraine: Is Belarus getting overlooked?

Lukashenko has expressed that he is surprised at how the war in Ukraine is dragging on. He has been supportive of Putin, but opposition Tikhanovskaya, whom many in the West believed won the presidential election in 2020, believes the Belarusian people oppose the war and views the fate of the opposition as linked to the conflict. This might be true, yet it gets little media attention. The mainstream narrative seems to only focus on one issue for months on end till it switches to a new one

Belarus seems to be largely ignored right now. Just as supposed disputes regarding the ‘rule of law’ in Poland. Putin helped to enforce the dictatorial regime in Kazakhstan recently. Before that he was also preparing to aid Lukashenko when he faced the biggest protests ever.

Putin’s need for a select group of reliable allies makes it unlikely he’ll abandon Lukashenko for now, at least as long as he is able to support him. But will he continue to feel able to do so.

If Putin’s influence is greatly weakened by the war in Ukraine dragging on, it could threaten Lukashenko. A defeat for Russia could hurt Lukashenko on a propaganda level as could a weakening of Putin in Russia. Either a victory or a favourable stalemate seem important for Lukashenko.

Whether the war has caused any rallying of the flag effect in Belarus is hard to tell due to the censorship, but there were significant protests against it. How many people in the middle have embraced the devil they knew, we in the West, don’t know.

The current situation in Belarus is complicated by the question of what comes after Lukashenko. This is also an issue with Putin in Russia but Lukashenko doesn’t have a strong dominant party, ideology or well established deep-state elite with clear top dogs. His dictatorship had always ben largely him.

Now it borders on several democracies and a warzone.

Lukashenko pushed through constitutional changes just when the conflict had begun, though he had been giving them priority ever since the protests in 2020 and 2021 and considering them before that.

It did a similar thing as Putin’s constitutional reforms, it ensured Lukashenko can get two more terms by starting the terms limit application only after its enactment. Although in this case limits were restored that Lukashenko had removed in 2004.

What’s more striking is how similar the reforms are to the ones passed in Belarus by now ex-president Nazarbayev. It will make him immune from prosecution, allow him to serve as a member of the security council for life and so on.

Yet Kazakhstan was hit by great unrest recently and Nazarbayev was made to resign from the security council and later as head of the ruling party, though he did keep his position on the country’s constitutional court and as an honorary senator.

I commented on the unrest at the time. It doesn’t seem like there was any Western involvement in the protests nor did Putin get a much stronger presence, but he likely did secure the loyalty from the new President who became more of a clear hardliner. It is still somewhat unclear just what exactly happened.

All we know is that the President triumphed, he installed a new government and head of the security council, Karim Massimov, was arrested and is being tried in secret while 3 security people, Zhanat Suleimenov, Azamat Ibrayev and Tanat Nazanov, were all found dead around the same time from ‘suicide’, ‘fall from a tall building’ and a ‘heart attack’.

The possibilities seem either a coup from a faction within the regime opposed to new President, or that the protests were used by factions to attempt a coup, or just that the president feared Massimov wouldn’t be reliable or that Massimov failed to follow his orders in crushing the protests. The latter two options seem more plausible since Massimov doesn’t appear to have had any meaningful support from the army or the police and to attempt a coup without them seems exceptionally risky.

But since ex-president Nazarbayev got to keep some of his positions I guess his retirement gamble largely paid off.

Yet, Lukashenko has faced far more protests and controversies and engaged in far more open violence. Whether he can enjoy a peaceful retirement in some alternative positions while a handpicked successor succeeds him as President remains to be seen. Lukashenko has faced far worse sanctions from the West.

His constitutional changes have little legitimacy in the eyes of the opposition. They will last only as long as his successor regime lasts. Unless, his successor starts a genuine moderate democratisation, which is appealing to the opposition yet happens on the government’s terms, thereby integrating the opposition into the current constitutional system. Even then, power can gradually slip from the ruling camp and the democratic forces once in power might try to start all over.

But Belarus is no longer a nuclear free zone. Did Lukashenko implement that to make Putin happy, or is he trying to ensure there can be no Western interference against him? The neutrality article has been removed from the constitution as well. He appears to have tied his fate to Russia and the opposition needs support from within the state, defection from security forces or an uprising somehow larger than last time. That appears unlikely.

The West doesn’t currently seem to care nearly as much.

Ramon Giralt

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *