Is holding Lukashenka’s regime accountable a tangible goal or merely a pipe dream?

Alexander Lukashenko
Alexander Lukashenko Reuters/Scanpix

Belarusian opposition activist Pavel Latushko at the conference “Responsibility of Lukashenka’s Regime for Crimes Against Humanity and Migrant Crisis: Prospects for International Justice,” stated that Russia’s President Vladimir Putin often appears to have a more defined strategy towards Belarus than European countries. Those thoughts are supported by strategic Russia’s documents, which envisage the total incorporation of Belarus into a “Union State” with Russia by 2030. In addition, a review of European Union documents also seems to support his assertion. As Bosse, a scholar at Maastricht University, argues, the comprehensive, enduring strategy for the EU’s approach towards Belarus has never been implemented. Meanwhile, Astapenia, an Academy associate at Chatham House, concludes that from the onset of the internal political upheaval in 2020, the issue of Belarus has evolved into a contentious subject for Western administrations. 

The lack of an EU strategy for Belarus could account for the extraordinary measures taken by various international mechanisms to support the Belarusian regime as if it were democratic. The European Commission revealed an extensive three billion Euro plan for economic aid to Belarus, contingent on a commitment to democratic transition. Furthermore, the International Monetary Fund’s decision to augment Belarus’ reserve assets with nearly one billion US dollars in August 2021 sparked controversy. Scholars from the Institute for Security Policy at Kiel University argue that the formulation of EU strategy about Belarus should occur in collaboration with other international entities, primarily NATO. Moreover, the EU’s strategy for Belarus cannot be detached from a comprehensive approach to Russia.

At a private discussion during a conference, European Parliament member Andrius Kubilius agreed with the assertion that not only has there been a halt in strategic advancements towards Belarus on the EU’s part, but the Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya also faces difficulties in garnering necessary attention in the wake of Russia’s war on Ukraine. Latushko pointed out that nearly three years after the disputed elections in Belarus, the discourse remains limited to the potential outlook for Belarus, with no tangible progress observed.

Additionally, the opposition leader has not yet been received by Ukrainian President Zelensky, indicating that his support for the Belarusian opposition may be conditional on their active involvement in Ukraine’s fight for freedom by mobilising widespread protests against Lukashenko, which could subsequently contribute to both countries. Mr Kubilius agrees that the notion of Belarus’s liberation should be conceived, potentially within the framework of Ukraine’s victory. Moreover, he suggests that the political leadership of this initiative should be assumed by Lithuania, Poland, and Ukraine, who need to devise a strategy on how Ukraine’s liberation could pave the way for Belarus’s freedom. Nonetheless, Astapenia doubts the leadership of Lithuania as it lacks “the diplomatic heft to coordinate policy across the entire West”.  

The debate over Lukashenka’s regime’s accountability for crimes against humanity is somewhat a progression of the pursuit of the Kremlin’s liability for its aggression towards Ukraine. Lithuania advocates for the Lukashenka regime’s legal accountability for international crimes and crimes against humanity. Still, debates continue whether the severity of the actions in Belarus amount to those in Ukraine and whether such a proposition will garner political backing in the West.  Especially given that the European Union’s proposal to create a special tribunal or specialised court with international judges to hold the Russian President accountable has met with resistance. Some argue that the International Criminal Court (ICC) is sufficient to ensure accountability, while others caution that it could lead to selective justice. Regardless of the option selected, the unwavering support of the United Nations would be crucial.

Nonetheless, in discussing the accountability of Belarus’s autocratic leader, we must consider that such discourse shouldn’t exhibit selectivity on the international stage. While leaders from countries such as North Korea, China, Myanmar, Syria, Venezuela and, of course, Russia, have been criticised globally for infringements on human rights, there has been a notable absence of collective willpower from the international community to collectively insist on global accountability from these autocratic leaders for their crimes against humanity.

Additionally, these mechanisms do not materialise without backing from the international community. Promoting these notions demands more than an idea; it needs a distinct leader, strategy, and action plan to bring the Lukashenka regime to account. It also necessitates a cogent rationale for establishing special tribunals for specific individuals, such as Lukashenka, while excluding others like Bashar al-Assad of Syria, Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela, and Min Aung Hlain of Myanmar.

Vytautas Valentinavičius, Lecturer at the European Humanities University, PhD student in Political Science at KTU, Vytautas Valentinavičius also holds a Master Cum Lauder in Political Science from the programme of Eastern European and Russian Studies at VU Institute of International Relations and Political Science.

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