Belarus: what’s Russia’s next move?



The gravity of the situation in Belarus has led many observers to question President Alexander Lukashenko’s ability to survive the turmoil absent a rescue operation by Russia. However, there is little love left in the Kremlin for the Belarusian leader, and Moscow is in no hurry to reveal its strategy for handling the unfolding crisis, notes analyst .

Moscow sees not Lukashenko but Belarus’s security and other government officials as its
main allies in the current crisis, he writes in an insightful ISSP Working Paper, The Kremlin and the Protests in Belarus: What’s Russia’s Next Move?:

These people run the country’s cumbersome, but relatively efficient bureaucratic machine. For decades, Lukashenko was unquestionably their boss and the guarantor of a stable and prosperous future. Now, however, he is in deep trouble and his promises are worth little. Thus, the Belarusian bureaucracy, frightened by the opposition’s calls for lustration, is searching for a way out, and the Kremlin is the only player to whom it is realistic to look. RTWT

Democracy has a real chance of taking hold in Belarus for the first time since the country’s independence from the Soviet Union, according to a new report.


Diplomatic support from abroad, as well as U.S. and European efforts to deter the authoritarian tendencies of Lukashenko and the irredentist and anti-democratic impulses of the Kremlin, will help democracy become a reality for the Belarusian people. But it is important that Western allies take their cues from the protestors, say Center for American Progress analysts Max Bergmann and Claire Cappaert.

The United States and Europe should take the following steps to support democracy in Belarus, they contend:

  • Be vocal in support of Belarusian democracy: Belarus’ Western allies should let the Belarusian people lead the protests, while expressing support for their efforts and issuing warnings against internal human rights violations and external intervention….
  • Call for and prepare to support free and fair elections: The United States and Europe should call for new elections and should be ready in case Lukashenko steps down. …. As with other democracy movements around the world, civil society organizations and activists can benefit from the solidarity and support of their allies in the form of technical assistance and training on how to build democratic institutions and advocacy strategies …
  • Threaten sanctions to deter human rights abuses: ….. In considering sanctions against Belarus, the United States and Europe should support the Belarusian public as the primary actors in determining the direction in which their country is going. …
  • Hit pause on normalizing relations with Belarus…..
  • Warn Russia that direct intervention in Belarus will result in additional sanctions and increased isolation….
  • Don’t hesitate to call out Russian interference…..
  • Don’t take EU and NATO membership off the table, but don’t put it on the table either….RTWT

So far, the Belarusian opposition has been very careful to avoid compromising its movement for democracy and national self-determination by taking sides in the geopolitical competition between Russia and the West, adds Carl GershmanPresident of the National Endowment for Democracy. As opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya has said, the revolution is “neither pro-Russian nor anti-Russian, nor is it anti-European or pro-European,” he writes for the ACUS Belarus Alert.

The Belarus Democracy Act, signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2004 and updated by President Obama in 2012, authorizes assistance for Belarusians working for democratic reform, notes FDD’s Clifford May.

My two kopeks: I don’t believe the U.S. has the skills necessary to export liberal democracy. But supporting those fighting for their unalienable rights conforms with American values and promotes American interests, he adds:

It’s become increasingly obvious that the victory of freedom over authoritarianism is not inevitable or maybe even probable – not in Belarus, not in other former Soviet republics, not anywhere. I worry that too many Americans no longer understand how much that matters.

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