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Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) embraces Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko (L) during the SCTO Summit on 23 November 2023, in Minsk, Belarus. Photo by Contributor/Getty Images.

Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine almost two years ago caused turbulence for Belarusian ruler Aliaksandr Lukashenka, who was labelled a Putin lackey or co-belligerent. But 2023 has seen somewhat of a turnaround. Lukashenka has pivoted to selling his non-direct involvement as an asset. As Ukrainian intelligence chief Kyrylo Budanov grudgingly acknowledged: ’Let’s not absolve Lukashenka, but credit is due for preventing any repeated invasion attempts from Belarus.’

The West, grappling with the war itself, has lost interest in Belarus as a sideshow. Lukashenka’s human rights abuses, while significant, are not regarded on a par with Putin’s war crimes. As the West lacks the ability to influence Lukashenka’s actions, its policy towards the country has narrowed to sanctions and financial support for civil society.…  Seguir leyendo »

A protester in support of Ukraine in London last weekend. Photograph: Vuk Valcic/SOPA Images/REX/Shutterstock

The Belarusian ruler, Alexander Lukashenko, has played a key role in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. He has allowed Russian convoys and troops to close in on Kyiv from Belarusian territory and provided military infrastructure, notably airbases that Russian warplanes are using to attack Ukraine. The country is being bombarded by rockets arriving from Belarusian territory.

Belarus’s dictator also provides political support for Russian aggression: Belarus voted against the resolution of the UN general assembly condemning the Russian invasion (alongside Russia, Syria, North Korea and Eritrea), and its state propaganda machine mirrors Russia’s in its justifications. Like its eastern neighbour, the Lukashenko regime is arresting and repressing those who dare protest against war.…  Seguir leyendo »

Outside a cafe in Oktyabrskaya Street in Minsk, Belarus, part of the Tsekh art space, bars, and cafes are located in a former iron foundry. Photo by Natalia Fedosenko\TASS via Getty Images.

Despite clear authoritarianism, for many years Belarus maintained an image of a united, homogeneous country – territorially, ethnically, religiously, and economically. Unlike many of its neighbours such as Russia and Ukraine, it kept economic stratification to a minimum and – unlike other Eastern Partnership countries – Belarus suffered no territorial dispute.

But the political crisis unfolding since 2020 has begun to split Belarusians more fundamentally, revealing a societal rift which is deeper than simply between supporters and detractors of the country’s president Aliaksandr Lukashenka. The demarcation line polarizing Belarusian society concerns its people’s core values.

The division is uneven because new sociological research on Belarusian society conducted by the Chatham House Belarus Initiative shows those who support Lukashenka make up only one-quarter of the population, while the rest is evenly divided between supporters of the protest movement and more passive ‘observers’.…  Seguir leyendo »

Displaying national Belarusian white-red-white colours as part of a demonstration in Krakow, Poland for the global Day of Solidarity with Belarus, on February 7, 2021. Photo by Beata Zawrzel/NurPhoto via Getty Images.

A majority of Belarusians want Aliaksandr Lukashenka out. His regime is incapable of ensuring a decent standard of living and can no longer draw on substantial financial support from Russia, although Moscow continues to support Lukashenka politically. But, despite all this, a Belarusian revolution has stalled, and some would say failed.

Lukashenka’s regime is maintaining control through large-scale repression, with reports widespread of the government killing protesters or putting them behind bars for years, as well as lower level fines and arrests of people simply for wearing red and white trousers or flying the flag of Japan which features the same colours as the Belarusian protest movement.…  Seguir leyendo »

The opinion poll was conducted using the Computer Assisted Web Interview (CAWI) method and sent to a diverse grouping that corresponds to the general structure of Belarus' urban population in gender, age, and the size of respondents’ town of residence. The survey was completed by 899 Belarus citizens and the statistical margin of error does not exceed 3.27%.

1. How Belarusians say they voted shows Lukashenka did not win

Although unlikely to be ever proven – given recent allegations of ballots being destroyed - the anecdotal evidence of vote rigging in the election is damning, especially when considering The Central Election Commission in Belarus has claimed Lukashenka secured 80.1 percent of the vote, with Tsikhanouskaya receiving only 10.1 percent.…  Seguir leyendo »

Opposition supporters hold white-red-white flags at a Minsk protest in support of Belarusian opposition activist Maria Kolesnikova. Photo by Natalia Fedosenko\TASS via Getty Images

1. Acknowledge the new reality

A huge number of Belarusians across all levels of society simply no longer recognize Lukashenka as their legitimate president. The unprecedented size and persistence of protests against his regime and the sheer scale of reports of repressive actions, torture, and even murder, mean Belarus will never be the same again.

However, current paralysis in EU policy and the absence of a comprehensive US policy are both serving as a de facto licence for Lukashenka to deepen the political crisis. The sooner policymakers realize this and act with more responsibility and confidence, the quicker the increasing repression can be reversed.…  Seguir leyendo »

People protest at a rally of solidarity with political prisoners in Belarus. Photo by Beata Zawrzel/NurPhoto via Getty Images.

Belarusian president Aliaksandr Lukashenka deserves sanctions. This election campaign in Belarus, which culminated in a vote on Sunday is the most brutal and dirty in its history. But, so far, the EU, the UK and the US have only issued familiar-sounding and futile appeals to the Belarusian authorities condemning their actions. Not imposing sanctions is a de facto licence to continue with repression.

Despite all this, the West is unlikely to impose significant sanctions afterwards. There are several questionable reasons for this. First, Western policymakers fear sanctions against Lukashenko will make him more likely to genuflect to Russia. However, relations with Russia have already deteriorated as Belarus accuses Russia of trying to interfere with its domestic affairs.…  Seguir leyendo »

Activists gather citizens' signatures in support of Nikolai Kozlov's candidacy in the 2020 Belarusian presidential election. Photo by Natalia Fedosenko\TASS via Getty Images.

An essentially sham presidential election in Belarus will take place on August 9 but, despite the expected extension of Lukashenka’s already 26-year rule, what is becoming clear is that this electoral campaign is significantly different from previous ones. The three major pillars of support that Lukashenka depends on to rule are feeling unprecedented strain.

The first pillar is public support. Lukashenka, in power since 1994, would actually have won every election he has been involved in regardless of whether they were fair or not. But now his popularity among the people appears to have plummeted as not a single publicly available opinion poll indicates significant support for him.…  Seguir leyendo »

Playing accordion in front of dummy football fans in Brest, Belarus as the country's championship continues despite the COVID-19 outbreak. Photo by SERGEI GAPON/AFP via Getty Images.

Since the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic, few countries have chosen to ignore social distancing recommendations. But, even among those states which have, the Belarusian official response to its epidemic remains unique.

President Aliaksandr Lukashenka’s statements that vodka, sauna and tractors are protecting Belarusians from coronavirus attracted amused attention in international media. Lukashenka also described other societies’ response to COVID-19 as ‘a massive psychosis’.

Although Lukashenka is notorious for his awkward style of public communication, the fact that Belarus is refusing to impose comprehensive confinement measures is of concern. Belarusians continue to work, play football and socialise.

Lukashenka, himself playing ice hockey in front of state cameras, claims it is the best way to stay healthy.…  Seguir leyendo »

Putin and Lukashenka play ice hockey in Sochi after a day of talks in February. Photo: Getty Images.

Earlier this month, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo became the highest-ranking US official to visit Belarus since Bill Clinton in 1994. After meetings with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenka – who Condoleezza Rice once memorably described as ‘Europe’s last dictator’ – Pompeo said he was ‘optimistic about our strengthened relationship’.

The EU and its member states have also changed their tune, at least a little. Previously, prosecutions of democratic activists led to sanctions against the Lukashenka regime. But his less-than-liberal manner of governance did not prevent him from visiting Austria last November or from receiving invitations to Brussels.

Eight years ago, most EU contacts with Belarusian officials were frozen.…  Seguir leyendo »

Alexander Lukashenka leaves a voting booth on 17 November. Photo: Getty Images.

Belarus’s parliamentary elections, held on 17 November, were predictably non-transparent, with numerous violations. The regime of Alexander Lukasheka allowed no opposition candidates as members of parliament – in contrast to the previous parliament, in which there were two opposition MPs. While this might seem to be a return to ‘business as usual’, three key takeaways from the elections highlight a shifting political and social landscape.

1. Lukashenka is appeasing his ruling cadre by promising to increase their role in the political system.

With several influential officials becoming new MPs, it is more likely that parliament will be more involved in any forthcoming discussion of a new constitution.…  Seguir leyendo »

Will Russia try to occupy Belarus?

Earlier this year, several public figures sounded that alarm, including former NATO general secretary Anders Rasmussen and Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum. That concern clashes with the idea that Belarus is Russia’s closest ally.

So where did they get that idea? Over the past four months, the Kremlin has been proposing closer ties within the Union State of Russia and Belarus, an agreement that aims toward deeper integration between the two. That treaty was signed in 1997 — but has had few tangible results. Some Russian elites are rumoring that creating a fully functioning union might enable Vladimir Putin to stay in power after he reaches his term limit as president in 2024.…  Seguir leyendo »