Lukashenka’s tactics to hold on to power


On August 15, 2020 Aliaksandr Lukashenka visited the Strategic Management Centre of the Ministry of Defence, where he held a meeting with the leaders of the military, law enforcement and political elite of Belarus. During the event, the Belarusian ruler made a number of statements:

— expressed concern about the increase in the military activity of Lithuania and Poland, however, did not specify what exactly worried him;

— said that in the course of telephone conversations with Vladimir Putin he allegedly received a guarantee of Moscow’s readiness to provide the necessary assistance to official Minsk in “ensuring security” (the Russian version of the event does not mention such obligations of the Kremlin);

— refused from international mediation to resolve the internal political crisis in Belarus.

In search of support. The visit to the Strategic Management Center of the Ministry of Defence is an element of a feverish search for internal support in a situation of growing doubts about the loyalty of the law enforcement agencies at the lower levels of the system.

Lukashenka, as they say, keeps his face. But the statements made during the event and the initiative to transfer the airborne brigade from Viciebsk to Hrodna, allegedly to respond to the intensification of military preparations in Poland and Lithuania, show Lukashenka’s internal confusion. But this does not contribute to the stabilization of the situation: the local population of Hrodna can perceive the Viciebsk paratroopers as potential punishers, and not defenders against a virtual threat.

The voiced allusion to the possibility of inviting the Kremlin to participate in the internal political crisis actually nullifies Lukashenka’s legitimacy as the head of state: organizing a foreign intervention is an act of national treason.

“Putin, bring in troops?” Why would Putin need it? The main task of the Kremlin at present is to ensure Russian influence in Belarus at least at the existing level.

The Belarusian uprising is not anti-Russian in nature, does not have any geopolitical connotation at all, its scale is rapidly expanding. The Belarusian society is predominantly Russian-friendly, but there is absolutely no social basis for unification with Russia. But there is a base for armed resistance to hypothetical Russian aggression (25.9%).

How will the introduction of troops help expand Russian influence? It will simply reset it to zero.

It should not be forgotten that Russia’s military involvement in Belarusian affairs will not cause enthusiasm within Russia either. It will contribute to the expansion of Western sanctions against Moscow as well.

It is obvious that the current situation does not pose significant geopolitical risks for the Kremlin. On the contrary, it opens up additional opportunities. The new presidential elections in Belarus will be held against the backdrop of economic difficulties caused by political instability. This opens up the long-awaited opportunity for the Kremlin to get its own, pro-Russian candidate for the presidency of Belarus. By the way, Lukashenka himself strongly opposed to it for a long time.

The deployment of Russian troops, in fact, will “add” the problems of the Belarusian economy to the “wallet” of Russia. The scale of support that may be required is significant even for Moscow.

Of course, Lukashenka is, as they say, socially close to Putin. But for Putin he is extremely unpleasant, clearly incapable of negotiation and very expensive at the same time.

It seems that the likelihood of Russia’s action against the rebellious Belarusian people is very small. Although it is present.

About international mediation. Lukashenka’s refusal from international mediation was expected and rational. If he accepted such a proposal, it would be a sign to the bureaucratic apparatus and the security forces that he is ready to relinquish power. Which would have provoked their massive “runaway” from the sinking ship of the dictatorship. We would have seen a chain reaction of recognition by local leaders of Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya as the winner of the presidential election and public confessions of those guilty of electoral fraud and punitive operations against the Belarusian people. This is correct: it is better to immediately repent in the hope of leniency within the framework of the conditional process of national reconciliation than to repent after serving a long prison term.

In general, as our confidants report, the officials do not yet demonstrate a desire to even listen to the people, let alone make political concessions.

Conclusions. It is obvious that Lukashenka currently adheres to the tactics of denying the endogenous nature of the political crisis in Belarus. He traditionally blames some powerful external forces for everything.

It seems that the statement about the possibility of Russian military support for the Belarusian regime, is an attempt to intimidate society on the one hand, and on the other – to consolidate the state apparatus around Lukashenka, showing that the official Minsk has serious external support. At the same time, it is an attempt to put pressure on the West in the traditional style “if Belarus won’t be ruled by Lukashenka it will be ruled by Putin”.

The main tactics is based on playing for time in the hope of a number of following factors:

— the protest will get smaller and smaller until it’s over;

— the West will have to deal with someone in Belarus and Lukashenka wants to remain this “someone”;

— it will be possible to consolidate the state apparatus around itself and prevent its collapse;

— new acute international problems will arise, which will nullify external interest in the state of affairs in Belarus.

This tactic has some common sense. But it ignores the fact that even if this crisis does not become the last in Lukashenka’s career, it will definitely become the penultimate one: without external financial support, Belarus risks facing a serious economic crisis. People will again go to the streets, and this time the socio-economic slogans will be added to political ones. Negotiations on external support can only be conducted by a legitimate and subjective authorities. But the regime is rapidly losing both legitimacy and subjectivity.