Will the sanction clouds darken Belarus’ skies and two potential scenarios

Belarus President A. Lukashenko and Russian President V. Putin
Belarus President A. Lukashenko and Russian President V. Putin AP/Scanpix

If sanctions could help replace the political regimes in Russia and Belarus, I would approve even their most severe variants, Mečys Laurinkus wrote in lrtyas.lt

Unfortunately, the sanction cascades against Russia have thus far ended with US President J. Biden’s initiative to meet with V. Putin. The reason for the meeting in Geneva – not the irksome sanctions, but the increasingly powerful and dangerous China.

Sanctions, particularly economic ones, are a painful matter and, in a time of globalisation, have unpleasant consequences for both sides, but Russia’s economy did not collapse. It was forced to manufacture what it once imported and the military-industrial complex even made steps forward, as indicated by US experts who are familiar with this sphere.

Sanctions also didn’t halt Nord Stream 2, J. Biden essentially conceded he cannot do anything now that the project is nearly complete.

So, what was the point of a number of years of sanctions toil? Symbolic? Sending a message? This means of inter-state communication has been particularly popular over the past few years. Lithuania sent Russia a message is the most often heard declaration from the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry (URM). That is, even though everyone knows that V. Putin doesn’t read messages and doesn’t even use smart technologies at all.

It is his advisors and aides who do, presenting the Kremlin’s owner ever the same summary – nothing new.

Now, the sanctions clouds are gathering above Belarus in an entire five packages. Will the last dictatorship of Europe fall apart, with Lukashenko putting his hands up, opening the jail cells himself and shaking hands with his opponents on the Lithuanian border? Or will the five packages be left as five messages for the future, indicating how the West will never come to terms with the dictator’s bad behaviour?

By the way, this is the prospect for the “packages” that one prominent Lithuanian political scientist predicted. I completely agree with her.

The first three packages have already descended into oblivion. A. Lukashenko’s circle, including specific henchmen, were unintimidated by personal restrictions, no one crossed over the barricades and no one divorced their wife because she won’t be able to freely go to Vilnius for shopping.

The fourth sanctions package is different. It could be called tribal sectoral. The restriction barring from holding money and travelling anywhere bar Russia also includes A. Lukashenko’s son and daughter in law.

What she has to do with everything is something I struggle to understand. After all, she holds no official post. But the sectoral sanctions axe should cut into the manufacturing capacities, which create unjust production relations, which is to say that they feed the regime.

However, an exceptional trait to this axe swing is that it cuts into both trade and manufacturing relations with Lithuania, specifically with Klaipėda Seaport. (The article was written before final specific EU sanctions were approved)

Oil products from Belarus began circumventing Lithuania some time ago already, now the time comes for fertilisers, which travel to a hundred countries via the Bulk Cargo Terminal (BKT).

The Lithuanian URM’s head G. Landsbergis admitted to this trajectory as being real. When asked what is expected of the sectoral “lumbering” in Belarus, his response was rather odd.

Supposedly, Moscow will also experience losses and will eventually buckle, calling A. Lukashenko on a dreary sanction-hit day and telling him that compensating for it is getting too expensive and so, he must release the political prisoners and announce elections.

I do not know what category of naivety this sort of response belongs to, but the content of the call, if one occurs, has been clear for many years now: transit must be diverted to Russian ports. At the same time, they will praise A. Lukashenko – Lithuania finally knows what refugees are.

That said, Russia does not have a bulk cargo terminal like in Klaipėda; it still needs building, but it’s a solvable problem. After all, the bridge to Crimea was built quickly. Circumventing Lithuania for transit and at the same time also Latvia and Estonia is a long-time plan of V. Putin’s. A part of it has already been completed.

Belkalij is a strategic company, its mineral areas are being expanded – you could say that Belarus is sitting on a gold mine despite trade with the EU in these goods comprising only 10% Open-source intelligence suggests that there are plans to transition into trading with China and Brazil. Furthermore, Uralkalij has long been waiting for Belkalij to face problems.

I believe that if Belkalij lands in Russia’s hands, even the lingering ephemeral hope for Belarusian independence will vanish. What would then be left in the opposition’s hands if it, say, won newly announced elections at some point?

By the way, even now, it is unclear where that famous opposition is and what it is doing. Yes, many have been imprisoned. However, you can’t imprison every single one of the hundreds of thousands who flooded Minsk’s streets.

No one left to organise it? Yes, the Belarusian KGB has been hard at work. But spontaneous movements don’t need particularly massive organisation. A spark is all you need. Will the fourth or the pending fifth sanctions regime packages spark it? What if they don’t?

After the revolutionary wave in autumn, there were claims that no one can stop it, but with the cold nearing, a pause was needed.

The claim was made that in spring, it won’t be only nature that will be restored. The summer heat has arrived and – silence. I think that revolutions aren’t seasonal. If the situation doesn’t change in one fell swoop, the front against the regime becomes fragmented and yields to division.

There is yet another unpleasant circumstance – when the sanctions impact the common people, they don’t rise up against the government. They begin grimacing at those imposing the sanctions. What scenarios then?

Scenario Nr. 1: A. Lukashenko persists, but the BKT is lost. Scenario Nr. 2: A. Lukashenko is replaced by, say, a democrat, but the BKT is not returned.

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