Lukashenka Driven into a Corner: Cui prodest

Almost a month after brutal crackdown on voting day rally in Minsk, the persecutions against the regime's opponents are not diminishing. Most leaders of the 19 December election protests are still in custody almost without reasonable communication with their advocates and families, police and state security are raiding the houses of opposition activists and arresting some of them. Many activists effectively are incommunicado.

Such long repressive campaign is unprecedented for the country. Of course, Lukashenka needs some time to recover his iron grip over the country that he somehow - though not really - loosened before the elections. But it is quite clear that such steps accompanied by hostile actions toward the West - as with strong statements of Lukashenka himself, closure of the OSCE office in Minsk or accusation against Germany and Poland - will unavoidably mean tilt toward Moscow. Why did Belarusian leader changed his mind, since before the elections he made the impression of a man interested in breaking Russian power over his nation and befriending the West?

The situation seems to be sufficiently simple. In the system without public critics and without parliamentary and other public control over state, including over security agencies, there was not a problem for state security organs to convince Lukashenka that it was absolutely necessary to launch a repression campaign.

After many years of leveling political sphere, now there is effectively a political ground zero in Belarus, there is only government, and there is only president in public politics. What happens behind closed doors of Belarusian state institutions and organizations is a murky issue. A propos, the similar situation of 'burned soil' exists in media, opposition and civil society as well. There are no really heard dissent or critical voices, there is no serious analysis and research considered by the people in power.

As a result, no one knows what is happening to the country. Its leader is not an exception. Everyone became much more vulnerable toward foreign pressure and ill or good wishes. Both opposition and Lukashenka, both consciously and unconsciously, suffer from this vulnerability in their relations with West and East, but most importantly in their internal policies. Lukashenka, of course, is suffering more. After 19 December, he actually should have fear of the own system he built. For good reasons.

Aside of harming numerous citizens and trampling on their rights, the active persecution of opposition, media and civil society by the security services prevented rapprochement with the West and pushed the country toward Russia, undermining its independence in a dangerous way. Given innumerable personal links between many members of Belarusian and Russian security agencies one can not exclude probability of Russian involvement in the crackdown. Perhaps not really direct, yet extremely efficient one.

Later developments only support such hypothesis. There are also other proofs, such as new cabinet under prime minister Mikhail Myasnikovich - the person which personifies docile nomenclature of late Soviet Belarus, undoubtedly willing to carry out any orders and having no proven commitment to independence. A bulk of his cabinet members are persons born outside Belarus and ethnic Russians.

Another evidence were two recent week publications in the main propaganda outlet of the regime, "Belarus Segodnya". Its second part openly accused Poland and Germany of planning and supporting opposition protests. And it did not mention more than well-known support given to some opposition groups from Russia altogether. The first such accusation against Germany - Poland has been frequently accused of such things in the past - mean that Moscow or its friends in Minsk strike back in retaliation for the European pre-election attempts to get Lukashenka closer to Europe.

Some recent actions of the Belarusian regime seemed to have had no other goals except for further irritating the European governments - like attempted intimidation of some detainees' relatives and preventing them from attending Warsaw conference. They did not help Lukashenka in any possible way yet they guaranteed the anger of Europeans and closure of their doors to Belarusian president.

Of course, the speculations above are more assumptions than hard knowledge. Current developments are hard to interpret, so illogical, irrational and wild they seem. Yet the result is absolutely clear. The only stakeholder which has already benefited from 19 December is Russia. And it is going to benefit even more as Belarusian relations with the West become ever more strained. The game, however, may be more complicated.

This week, Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov stated his country's support for critical resolution on Belarusian election issued by the Council of Europe. It means that Russia can aim at weakening Lukashenka's legitimacy and standing both internally and internationally. Such scenario of Russia's weakening Lukashenka has been discussed by Yury Chavusau almost a year ago.

Anyway, it would be a grand blunder to consider the Belarusian president a victim of the system or Russian intrugue, or naively work on saving him from Russian trap by helping him mend his fences with the EU as the Lithuanian president supposedly tried to do. Firstly, current situation in Belarus has been created by Lukashenka himself, it was he who caused the Russian menace to raise once again and created the security services system prone to the Kremlin's infiltration.

Secondly, there are situations in politics when there are really clear poles of evil and good. No matter what brought the people to the streets on the voting evening, no matter whose money stood behind Niakliajeu and Sannikau - any issues are to be solved according to the law and without resort to violence. But the development around recent Belarusian election demonstrated that there is no such thing as rule of law in the country and anytime any citizen can be attacked, extrajudicially detained, isolated and stripped of his rights and even left without medical aid. Such situation exists in Belarus after 19 December. Thus, there is no need to seek justification for regime's behavior and speak about 'shades of gray', for now black and white are explicitly identifiable.

Since 2007, Belarusian politics including the EU's Belarusian problem gradually became more about politics than moral choices. Contrary to moral, in politics one can and have to negotiate and compromise. Therefore, Lukashenka managed to find some communication channels to the international community and create ambivalence even among many Belarusians critical of his regime concerning the opposition and possible Russian danger.

Today, he has once again brought the whole issue out of the political sphere. Now the existence and change of his regime are moral issues, linked to basic human dignity and rights. Unfortunately for the Belarusian leader the moral lets much less compromises.


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