Assessing Lukashenko’s strategy: a plan to retire him instead of the gallows

Vladimir Putin, Alexander Lukashenko
Putin and Lukashenka, AP/Scanpix

While Belarusian dictator Aliaksandr Lukashenko threatens that the Baltic states will lose their statehood if the escalating tensions between the West and Russia and its ally Minsk escalate into war, political experts note that Belarus itself is already losing the last vestiges of statehood, writes.

Andrius Kubilius, MEP, and Laurynas Jonavičius, a political scientist at the VU TSPMI, discussed in the programme of Žinių Radijas what Lithuania’s foreign policy towards Belarus should be in order to avoid harming Lithuania itself.

Aggressive strategy – strange?

Andrius Kubilius, a member of the European Parliament (MEP), disagrees with the view of some people that Lithuania’s active role in the struggle for the independence of Belarus and its democracy has, in principle, given it a Russian presence on its border.

“When we sometimes say that the attempts of the Belarusian people to achieve democracy in Belarus have weakened Lukashenko, and that the Kremlin is now coming to the rescue – it seems to me that this is a very mistaken view.

Lukashenko has never been independent. We naively imagined that he was independent, and now he is not. Let us imagine a hypothetical situation – for example, that there was no 2020 election, where Lukashenko lost to S Tsikhanouskaya. We come to today’s period – where Putin starts all the threats and intimidation against us Ukraine and insists that he needs to bring troops into Belarus.

Would Lukashenko have resisted that? We are somehow very naïve in our imagination. Yes, he did not really want those bases, but that is because Putin did not really want them either. Now Putin needs to bring in troops for various purposes, and that is the end of it”, Kubilius noted.

However, Kubilius said he views Belarus’ future prospects with “restrained optimism and hope”.

“We can see very clearly that authoritarian regimes in the post-Soviet space are losing the loyalty of the people. For example, in Belarus in 2020, Kazakhstan at the beginning of this year, Putin also had to rig the Duma elections by almost doubling the number of ballots cast in his favour. It seems to me that this is one of the reasons why he is behaving so nervously now”, said A Kubilius.

“Putin’s externally aggressive strategy sometimes seems very strange to me because it is completely counterproductive. Putin is intimidating Ukraine, but that is the reason why the West is uniting, strengthening Ukraine with weapons and political statements. To be honest, I do not really understand Putin’s strategic objectives”, the MEP added.

Kubilius is convinced that we need to be prepared for all kinds of events, including the fact that the changes demanded by the Belarusian people themselves could soon start again in the event of a renewed wave of resistance – a wave which, he said, could also break out in Russia.

It could be damaging to us

Laurynas Jonavičius, a lecturer at Vilnius University’s Institute of International Relations and Political Science, stressed Lithuanian politicians need to assess their real options. Jonavičius noted that the international context was favourable for Lithuania when it fought for independence, but now this is not the case in Belarus.

“Russia, as a player, is unfortunately strong enough today not to let Belarus go. However, the situation could change if Russia weakens economically. Russia, perhaps seeing that its model does not allow it to generate enough resources, enough economic elements to ensure consistent growth in the longer term, is now concentrating on Ukraine, on Belarus. A declining power tends to be more aggressive than a stable power”, the political analyst assessed.

“Those are all good goals, but we need to keep in mind whether we have the practical capacity to implement them. At the moment, it is difficult to do so. This does not mean that we should forget Belarus (…) – we have to continue that policy, but it has to be a sensible one – it should not be about banging your head against the wall, about freedom and that’s it, I’m going to shoot myself and dismember myself to help the Belarusians to get that freedom.

You have to assess and calculate pragmatically what you can do and what you cannot do. Sometimes too aggressive move with the value flag costs us a lot internally, politically and economically, which weakens the value idea as such,” L Jonavičius stressed.

Remnants of statehood

Lukashenko threatened on Friday that the Baltic states would lose their statehood if the escalating tensions between the West and Russia and its ally Minsk escalate into war. However, L Jonavičius noted that Belarus itself is losing the last remnants of statehood.

“Statehood consists of internal and external sovereignty, legitimacy, internal and external recognition of power, and physical control of one’s territory.

If we look at Belarus, it has problems with external and internal legitimacy, not much sovereignty. So whether Belarus is still in control of what is happening on its territory after the entire Russian army has arrived, the answer is also probably more negative than positive.

Even formal indications show that there is not much sovereignty in Belarus anymore, not to mention everyday things such as how much independence Lukashenko has in taking decisions of one kind or another,” said L Jonavičius.

The political analyst said that Lukashenko could make independent decisions on economic and social issues within the country. Still, he said Lukashenko receives “advice” from his neighbouring country on foreign policy and strategic issues.

“There is very little statehood at the informal level. This is the actual situation now. Where will it go from here? We know about the Russian-Belarusian Union State and all the other alliances that exist between Belarus and Russia, but not with the West.

Unfortunately, Belarus does not really have much chance in the near future to move independently in any direction, either towards neutrality or towards relations with the West, except towards closer integration with Russia”, – assessed L Jonavičius.

Asked whether Lukashenko understands that his days are numbered, the political analyst suggested that the Belarusian authoritarian leader himself may see the situation differently.

“It may look that way to us from the side, but I am not sure how he sees it. What is happening with the constitutional referendum and all the relations with Russia is most likely an exit strategy for Lukashenko to retire from politics, not to the gallows, but to retire, and going down in history as one of the Belarusian leaders (…) who ended up with a more or less good outcome,” the political analyst said.
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