Bielorrusia

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 »

FC Neman players come out before playing a soccer match in Neman Stadium, in Grodno, Belarus, on April 10. (Vasily Fedosenko/Reuters)

President Alexander Lukashenka is a covid-19 holdout. Despite nearly 5,000 confirmed cases and over 40 coronavirus deaths, Belarus remains the only country in Europe denying the coronavirus danger. The president has made his position clear — there is no sense in declaring total quarantine, and the fear of coronavirus is a “psychosis” that wise Belarusian people should ignore.

Minsk city authorities introduced some mandatory coronavirus measures on April 7. These measures apply only in the capital, and require everyone to regularly wash hands in churches and monasteries, disinfect public transportation and places of public gatherings, wear masks in beauty salons, place tables in food service facilities no closer than 1.5 meters, and stop visiting nursing homes.…  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 »

Il reste une bombe à retardement au sein de l’Europe en pleine pandémie de coronavirus. Pas de fermeture des écoles, restaurants, bars, boîtes de nuit, centres commerciaux, stades de foot malgré les graffitis qui s’étalent sur les murs du pays et réclament un même mot : «confinement». La récente mission de l’OMS n’a laissé dupe aucun expert. Les scientifiques ont en effet visité un «village Potemkine», un hôpital bien équipé de la capitale. Le président Alexandre Loukachenko n’a pas changé sa ligne de déni, lui qui déclarait en direct à la télévision, dans une tenue de hockeyeur, qu’il s’agit d’une «épidémie saisonnière» et qu’il «vaut mieux mourir debout que de vivre à genoux».…  Seguir leyendo »

Reading the recent spate of articles about the incredulous response of the President of Belarus to the threat of Covid-19, advising his citizens simply to wash their hands more often and eat meals at the regular time, took me back to another crisis I lived through — the nuclear catastrophe at Chernobyl — and the similar advice doled out to Belarusian citizens at that time.

I was born and raised in Gomel, Belarus, about 120 miles from the town of Pripyat in modern-day Ukraine, part of the former Soviet Union, where the ill-fated Reactor 4 at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant exploded on April 26, 1986.…  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 »

Vladimir Putin and Alexander Lukashenka at a Collective Security Treaty Organization meeting in Kyrgyzstan in November 2019. Photo: Getty Images.

Two December meetings between Presidents Vladimir Putin and Alexander Lukashenka failed to deliver Moscow’s hopes of securing Minsk’s acceptance of closer alignment between Russia and Belarus.

Over the past year, relations between Belarus and Russia have been under unprecedented strain as Moscow has tried to encourage Minsk to sign up to a different format of relations designed to keep Belarus firmly in a Russian orbit. Details of the negotiations have remained secret, yet issues on the table appear to include unification of tax and customs systems, a common energy regulator and joint governing bodies.

The Kremlin believes that Belarus needs to deliver more in return for Russia’s continued economic support, worth around $10 billion per year.…  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 »

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenka in Sochi in February. Photo: Getty Images.

Earlier this year, there was intense speculation in Moscow that the Kremlin was looking at putting flesh on the bones of the Union State as a platform for President Putin to stay in office after 2024 as leader of a Russian-Belarusian confederation. The joint state has only existed on paper since its formal establishment in 1999.

The ‘integration plan’ negotiated by the ministers of the economy of Russia and Belarus falls far short of establishing a single monetary, banking and customs system as foreseen in the original Union State Treaty. The draft agreement focuses on a more modest range of economic integration measures including a single tax code, a single regulator for the energy markets and deepening of common customs policies.…  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 »

People walk among the crosses at a mass grave in Kuropaty, near Minsk, commemorating the victims of Stalin’s regime. Photograph: Vasily Fedosenko/Reuters

In December I travelled to Minsk for a seminar with a group of European historians. A few miles outside the capital of Belarus, we visited places where both the Nazis and Stalin’s secret police had committed some of the worst crimes of the 20th century. During those few days, I also spoke with some young locals who offered glimmers of hope as to what a truly united Europe could one day look like.

It was the most instructive trip I’ve made in years: a deep dive into conflicting European memories, highlighting the difficulty of overcoming stereotypes and ideological narratives, as well as the legacy of the cold war in people’s minds.…  Seguir leyendo »

The rise of virtual currencies is pushing governments around the world to come up with new rules. Some countries have banned bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies outright. Others, including Venezuela and Russia, reportedly are looking to create state-sponsored cryptocurrencies as a way to get around economic sanctions.

In December, authoritarian Belarus apparently became one of the world’s most favorable countries for cryptocurrencies, thanks to a decree legalizing cryptocurrency transactions. It’s an unusual modernization experiment in authoritarian Belarus, as the decree leaves these payment systems almost entirely outside the Belarus state regulatory system.

Here are three things to know about Belarus’s cryptocurrency law:

1) Belarus just moved to the front of the cryptocurrency pack

The decree by President Alexander Lukashenka makes Belarus, long weighted down by bureaucracy and state-dominated enterprises, one of the world’s leading countries in terms of cryptocurrency development.…  Seguir leyendo »

Following seven days of «military operations», the fictional country of «Veshnoriya» (with a geography similar to that of the Baltic States) was forced into submission by Russian and Belarusian joint forces.

In a grand display, the «Union State» of Russia and Belarus destroyed the enemy after Veshnoriya tried to stage border incursions and massive air raids.

This scenario was, of course, played out in Russia and Belarus during the Zapad-2017 military exercise. But what were the key takeaways for the watching world?

Small is beautiful

Western commentators were obsessed with the numbers of Russian troops being mobilized during the course of exercise and stuck firmly to the «100,000 servicemen» narrative.…  Seguir leyendo »

La Biélorussie est l’un des six pays de la partie européenne de l’Union soviétique qui ont gagné leur indépendance suite à la chute de l’URSS en 1991. Ces six pays ont choisi différentes voies de développement. Les trois pays baltes ont, dès le début, aspiré à intégrer l’Europe ; la Moldavie avait les relations spécifiques avec la Bulgarie, quant à la Biélorussie et l’Ukraine, ils n’avaient pas de stratégie de développement et balançaient entre l’Europe et la Russie.

Les trois pays baltes sont devenus membres de l’Union européenne (UE) en 2004, la Moldavie a, elle, été divisée et sa partie orientale est devenue un Etat fantoche contrôlé par les forces armées russes.…  Seguir leyendo »

Ces derniers temps, il m’est arrivé à plusieurs reprises de croiser sur la route Minsk-Vilnius des convois de poids lourds siglés « ministère de l’intérieur de Biélorussie ». Je ne pensais pas que le ministère de l’intérieur pouvait avoir de tels besoins logistiques. Les camions allaient dans la direction de « Veyshnoria », un territoire rebelle fictif situé au nord-ouest de la Biélorussie aux frontières lituanienne et polonaise, inventé par les états-majors de la défense russe et biélorusse dans le cadre de l’exercice militaire « Zapad 2017 » [Ouest 2017].

Questionnements légitimes

Formellement, cet exercice a débuté le 14 septembre et devrait se dérouler jusqu’au 20 sur le territoire biélorusse et dans l’ouest de la Russie, ainsi que dans la Baltique.…  Seguir leyendo »

L’exercice stratégique conjoint des forces russes et biélorusses « Zapad 2017 » [« Ouest 2017 »] a suscité une vague d’inquiétude sans précédent et attiré une fois de plus l’attention sur la Biélorussie. Coincée entre l’Union européenne [UE] et la Russie, la Biélorussie apparaît rarement dans les médias occidentaux et, lorsque c’est le cas, elle est presque systématiquement qualifiée de « dernière dictature européenne », avec ses prisonniers politiques et ses violations permanentes des droits de l’homme.

Libéralisation politique

La situation a commencé à changer un peu à la suite des accords de Minsk, dans lesquels la Biélorussie a joué un rôle significatif pour la résolution du conflit ukrainien.…  Seguir leyendo »

As Russia prepares for its annual strategic military exercises, speculation is mounting that the Zapad-2017 war games, set for Thursday through Sept. 20 in western Russia and Belarus, might be a prelude to war. Ukraine’s defense minister cautioned that Zapad could be a ruse to attack any European country “that shares a border with Russia,” while the New York Times proclaimed that the drills near NATO’s borders have raised “fears of aggression.” A CNN contributor wondered, “Could they turn into war?”

My analysis of Russia’s recent war games suggests that this is highly unlikely. The Russian military is preparing for war, but that is what generals in all countries do — prepare for worst-case scenarios, and carry out large-scale exercises to test the military’s readiness for them.…  Seguir leyendo »

Tema

Rusia y Bielorrusia han anunciado Zapad-2017, maniobras militares entre el 14 y 20 de septiembre en el Mar Báltico, Kaliningrado, Rusia occidental y Bielorrusia.

Resumen

El anuncio de las maniobras Zapad-2017 (zapad en ruso significa “oeste”) ha levantado entre los analistas occidentales la sospecha de que Moscú podría usarlas para atacar a un país miembro de la OTAN. Aunque la invasión de Georgia en 2008 y la anexión de Crimea en 2014 contaron con efectivos que estaban realizando entrenamientos militares, actualmente Rusia no aspira a emprender nuevas aventuras bélicas (y menos contra un país de la Alianza Atlántica) sino a reducir el conflicto en Ucrania para revertir las sanciones impuestas por EEUU y la UE, desactivar la retórica anti-rusa y socavar a los que advierten de las intenciones agresivas del Kremlin.…  Seguir leyendo »

In Russia and neighbouring Belarus, preparations are underway for Zapad – a major military exercise to be held in September. The two countries’ Western neighbours are worried. Zapad is Russian for ‘West’, and of all the different major exercises in the Russian military calendar, it causes the most excitement and concern because it is the one that most closely resembles practice for invading those neighbours.

As a result, this regular event receives a lot more attention than other Russian manoeuvers of similar size. Held every four years, the exercise can even develop its own mythology: much of the Western coverage said that the 2009 exercise ended with a simulated nuclear attack on Warsaw, Poland, even though there is no evidence at all from unclassified sources to suggest this was the case.…  Seguir leyendo »

Recent months have seen unprecedented social protest in Belarus. According to Human Rights Watch, citizen mobilisation has also resulted in mass and arbitrary arrests of demonstrators, human rights activists and journalists in this authoritarian nation.

On orders of President Aleksandr Lukashenko, who has ruled the country since 1994, some 1,000 people were detained, jailed or forced to pay hefty fines from February through the big March 25 Freedom Day protest commemorating the republic’s founding in 1918.

Notably, protests occurred not only in Minsk and regional capitals but also in smaller towns throughout Belarus for the first time. A proposition for a new tax targeting part-time workers catalysed existing discontent with the country’s economic situation.…  Seguir leyendo »