Rice Sees Signs of Progress in Belarus Despite Lukashenko Victory

By David Gollust

State Department

29 March 2006

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told Senators Tuesday she thinks a democratic opposition may be emerging in Belarus despite President Alexander Lukashenko's lopsided re-election victory earlier this month. She also said the reform movement in Ukraine remains strong despite mixed election results there.

Secretary Rice says the authoritarian government of Belarus President Lukashenko remains, in her words, the last "really bad dictatorship" in Europe. But she says she sees signs from the March 19 election that an organized political opposition may be taking hold.

Mr. Lukashenko, a former Soviet official who has run the country since 1994, was reelected with what officials say was 83 per cent of the vote in an election condemned as fraudulent by international observers and domestic critics.

The United States joined the European Union in announcing travel and financial sanctions against the Belorusian leadership because of the apparent fraud.

However in Senate Appropriations subcommittee testimony, the Secretary of State said there are signs that a coherent opposition movement is taking shape - citing the fact that disparate factions were able to unite around a single candidate, Alexander Milinkevich, who drew a double-digit share of votes.

Rice, who had met with Belarusian opposition activists a year ago in Lithuania, said she was pleasantly surprised by the apparent strides they made since that April 2005 meeting:

"It's the nascent incipient stages of opposition in Belarus," said Condoleezza Rice. "But it's far more lively than frankly I would have guessed a year ago, when I met with what was a very fractured opposition in Belarus. And I do not believe that Lukashenko under these circumstances, and under greater isolation - you know that the Europeans have put forth some further sanctions, we also will put forth some further sanctions - I think he's been surprised at the opposition and the fact there is opposition to him. I think it's a good thing."

The Secretary also told the panel she did not think the result of last Sunday's parliamentary election in Ukraine was a repudiation of the reform movement there, even though the Russian-backed party of former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych got the most votes.

Rice said the two reformist parties that constituted the core of the country's 2004 Orange Revolution collectively tallied more votes than the Yanukovych party.

She said that leaves Ukrainians facing a process of coalition building and said the United States wants a good relationship with whatever government that emerges from that process:

"Some combination of blocs have to come together in order to appoint the prime minister," she said. "I should say that of course, we'll work with whatever government comes into being there. It is our hope that whatever government comes into being, whether that is the bloc that includes Team Orange, or if it's the Yanukovych bloc, is going to be respectful of what the Ukrainian people have clearly spoken for, which is reform, independence of Ukrainian policy, and a desire to have good relations with the West."

Rice said it was fair to say that the popular expectations of what President Viktor Yushchenko's Orange Revolution could accomplish probably exceeded what his government could achieve, and that policy and personality clashes weakened the outgoing government.