Laurinkus. Poorly thought out steps could accelerate Belarus’ descent into Russia’s grasp

Vladimir Putin and Alexander Lukashenko

Secretly, Alexander Lukashenko’s inauguration became the reference point for the next events in Belarus. The opposition was unable to find out the date for the “ceremony” ahead of time. Protesters planned to meet the “ascent to the throne”, but did not expect for it to occur on a regular day, Mečys Laurinkus writes in

It turned out that this was also a surprised to the Belarussian government (at least most of it). Did the Kremlin know? writes, “[…] he [A. Lukashenko] unexpectedly organised a secret inauguration, which no one in Moscow knew about. This inherently increases political tensions.”

It is hard to believe such claims because the Belarussian KGB, which maintains direct ties to the Russian FSB, could not have been unaware. But what is intriguing is not the secret inauguration, which was likely under the current circumstances, but how information on it didn’t leak.

After all, the “consecration” wasn’t held in some office or toilet. Many people knew. The organisers probably didn’t even discuss this at home with their family members. Not even whispering it in the kitchen. In other words, “A. Lukashenko’s secret chancellery” took the initiative.

The inauguration was presented to the public as a ceremonious fact alongside “sensitive” statements by the dictator and flowers from those offering congratulations. A. Lukashenko could not have come up with this himself. The hand of Moscow’s propaganda detachment can be felt. Belarus’ Maidan is being discussed on all of Russia’s propaganda news shows, while previously, for many years, even the prominent, impossible not to notice excesses by A. Lukashenko were kept quiet.

Meanwhile, in the Western information space, to the contrary, attention to Belarus’ “moral revolution” is gradually fading. The EU is currently limiting itself to making some noise. It avoids making any more tangible steps. You can make the excuse that Cyprus is to blame, but I am left with the suspicion that the EU has other members who also want the stubborn country’s veto to continue.

Many countries will now proclaim A. Lukashenko an illegitimate leader, but I doubt they will impose more serious sanctions. A. Lukashenko’s team sees this, analyses it and is gradually recovering.

I will not be surprised at all to read the news that Belarussian Minister of Foreign Affairs V. Makei, whom it is unclear whether sanctions have been imposed on, is once again calling EU member states, calling the USA with offers to reboots relations once again. And the Western diplomats will agree. The EU’s proclamation that A. Lukashenko is an illegitimate head of state is of no concern to the dictator – he will visit the countries that do recognise him.

What the West’s real relationship with Belarus will be like will depend on the USA’s position. While the USA has also declared it does not recognise A. Lukashenko, Washington’s next steps are uncertain. There’s dithering right now. Things will be clearer following the US presidential elections. One mustn’t forget that for the ambiguous relations with the USA, A. Lukashenko has the China card. After all, due to this, M. Pompeo just recently patted the dictator’s shoulder.

What are A. Lukashenko’s next steps after his “inauguration”, which Lithuania is without reason viewing as completely meaningless? A. Lukashenko has his supporters and not only among those beating on the public. After the inauguration, their circle might expand. Another emotional injection will be the launch of the power plant in Astravyets. I have no doubt that all the propaganda opportunities of this ceremony on November 7 will be employed.

A presidential or more precisely trade union, pro-Russian party will be formed, becoming a launchpad for A. Lukashenko’s successor. Alongside this, it is no difficulty to revive a dozen other former parties.

I believe that the eventual elections in Belarus will feature observers and far fairer vote counting. However, it is completely unclear who will come out their winner. Another very uncertain aspect of the future is what Lithuania’s relations will be like with the next Belarussian president.

Currently, our relationship with Belarus is unique. A. Lukashenko is unacceptable to both the West and, due to his unpredictability, to Russia. But the goals of the West and Russia differ. Together with our colleagues in the EU, we seek E. Lukashenko’s resignation and quick and democratic snap presidential elections. Furthermore – the release of political prisoners.

Russia might like to be rid by the hands of the West of its annoying and compromised “brother” from his throne, but only after accomplishing its own goals. What are they? One of them is, while sustaining A. Lukashenko’s time in office, to begin creating a Russian military base on the Polish and Lithuanian borders based on still existing documented agreements with Belarus (the union state agreement and collective security agreement organisation).

The second goal. In the next, perhaps snap Belarussian presidential elections to have their own predictable and reliable politician, not dismissing the possibility that such a figure could maintain kremlin-regulated relations with the West.

I am increasingly of the belief that the Kremlin is ever less convinced in the idea of a joint state with Belarus, but a spare option remains to not only make use of the “reserve” formed in Belarus but also administrative resources.

How should Lithuania act? So far, we have been reacting to the Belarussian spring “mechanically correctly” – we are condemning the machoistic brutality and celebrate those rising up, all under hopes of a combined EU front against the regime. But you need only meet with politicians and analysts who express regret that over the past 26 years, Vilnius has failed to create a strategy for relations with Minsk.

Even if just, an overly firm position always has two sides to it.

The second, painful side, we have been struck with over the head – the nuclear plant location in Astravyets. To be honest, it is the greatest diplomatic loss in all of restored Lithuania’s history to refuse in participating in the selection of a location. Currently, through such poorly thought out steps, we could accelerate Belarus’ descent into Russia’s grasp. It is inherently obvious that failing to support the Belarussian people’s uprising against the regime would be a betrayal of our own ideals. However, if the worst-case scenario were to occur, we cannot disregard our own national interests.
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