in

Have no doubt: it’s in the West’s interest to see Lukashenko topple

Beyond the popular uprising, the geopolitical stakes of Belarus’ future are high. Everything’s to play for…

Johanna Ross, journalist based in Edinburgh, Scotland

It’s a fascinating time for Russia watchers. As the eyes of the world have turned to events in Belarus in recent weeks, so have ours, as we try to attempt to figure out what exactly is going on in this country sandwiched between Russia and Europe. The geopolitical significance of this nation couldn’t be greater as one of Russia’s closest allies.  And yet, currently Belarus’ future is hanging in the balance as anti-government protests entered their 11th day on Wednesday.

Although President Putin gave assurances last week to Lukashenko that it would provide military assistance if required, statements from the Kremlin of late have emphasized that no-one should meddle in the internal affairs of Belarus. This hasn’t stopped reports from emerging in recent days which have tried to imply Russian involvement in Belarus – from videos of lines of armoured vehicles (supposedly Russian) to rumours of Russian secret service personnel being shipped across in aeroplanes to replace striking Belarusian journalists. Such ‘stories’ have been branded as fake news by Belarusian government, but there is a clear aim by certain parties to somehow implicate Russia in the current goings on.

The reality is that beyond the popular uprising, there are quite likely other, darker, geopolitical forces at play in Belarus.  One US government-funded think-thank recently published a paper entitled ‘Overextending and Overbalancing Russia’ – in short, a detailed plan of how the US could go about undermining Russia to further its geopolitical aims. No. 3 on the list, after arming Syrian rebels and aiding Ukraine is ‘promoting liberalisation in Belarus’. The reality is that Belarus has been in the US’ sights ever since the Ukraine coup in 2014. It was just a matter of time. Even if no direct influence has taken place, you can be sure the ‘Pompeo’ administration will relish the opportunity for regime change. Only this time any maneuvers would be carried out more subtly, so no fingers could be pointed. No US officials will be handing out cookies in the main square.

For while it’s easy to get caught up in the massive mobilization of people power which has been on display in recent days, the fact remains that we don’t know much at all about the leaders of the Belarusian opposition movement which has inspired so much confidence of late. Sergei Tikhanoskii (currently imprisoned), husband of Svetlana Tikhanovskaya who ran against Lukashenko in the recent election, simply describes himself as a businessman. Apparently he owns a video production company ‘Compass Production’ which has an office in Moscow, and produces videos aimed at the Russian and Ukrainian market. Both his wife and mother-in-law are said to have worked with him.  But what is most interesting is that one independent Belarusian news site Belsat has published an article on Tikhankovskii which includes interviews with previous employees of his company and paints a rather different picture of the man we are used to hearing about. Far from being the harmless Youtube blogger and principled activist we have been presented with to date, people who know Tikhanovskii have demonstrated huge scepticism at his ability to run for office. Instead, his behavior towards colleagues and employees has been said to be aggressive. One ex-employee said ‘I don’t believe in the sincerity and good intentions of this individual’.

Tikhanovskii rose to fame after creating his video blog ‘Strana dlya Zhizni’ (A Country For Life) in which he complains about everything in Belarus from bureaucracy to social problems. Over the past year he travelled across Belarus interviewing discontented citizens. But it’s not clear how he, or his wife Svetlana (who he met in a night club he used to own) have financed their campaign. In addition, there are also unanswered questions about his wife.  Although presented to us as a former English teacher and housewife, Svetlana is said to have worked ‘by contract’ in Ireland. What she was doing there isn’t known, but surely it wasn’t teaching English. And for someone who is clearly apolitical and only voted once in her lifetime – incidentally for Lukashenko – it’s extraordinary that she can put herself forward as a presidential candidate.

Just who these people are, who stands behind them and what is really motivating them, we can’t be sure. In some ways the current situation, with Tikhanovskaya fleeing to a neighbouring state before pronouncing herself as the leader of Belarus, bears a striking resemblance to what we had with Juan Guaido in Venezuela, and the failed US coup. And while there has not been any blatant Maidan-style western meddling demonstrated to date, if we begin to dig a little it is clear that there is an attempt to drive a wedge between Belarus and Russia. Tikhanovskaya’s election program is full of references to ‘reducing Russian influence’ in every sector, from mass media, to infrastructure projects, to the energy sector. It states that Belarus should aim to join the EU and NATO and leave all pacts and treaties where ‘Russia dominates’, including the Eurasian Economic Union and military agreements. Can it possibly be argued that such moves would be in Belarus’ interest?

At the same time there is something almost childlike and naive about Tikhanovskaya’s program.  When it comes to the energy sector for example, establishing diversity of more environmentally friendly forms of energy is all well and good, but this won’t happen overnight and requires huge investment. And yet there is great emphasis in the document on breaking away from Russia in this area. Why? Well let’s not forget that the US is desperate to steer European countries away from their reliance on Russian gas in favour of American shale gas. Even if the immediate goal of the Tikhanovskaya campaign is not to switch from Russian to US gas, they may end up doing so in the short term in order to fulfill their goal of reducing reliance on Russia.

While it is obvious that a large body of the Belarusian population wants an end to the stagnation of life under Lukashenko, in favour of modernization and effectively, more globalization and free market capitalism, this is not the case for everyone. And although we can’t completely verify all the polls held in recent times, nor can we outright reject the figure of 69% to 72% in support of Lukashenko which surveys have shown to date. There is no reason to think that the older ‘Soviet’ generation are as dissatisfied with the status quo as the younger people taking to the streets to protest. What their demands are, is also not 100% certain. Is it ‘freedom and democracy’ or more ‘iphones and Starbucks’? When watching a video of a Tikhanovskaya gathering, I found the reasoning of some of the speakers curious. One analyst, Andrei Lavrukhin, asked ‘Why are we so educated but at the same time so poor?’  What he doesn’t understand is that even a system like the one we have in Britain doesn’t guarantee you a well-paid job. There’s a huge number of graduates in the West working in pubs and restaurants.

The reality is this: there isn’t a magic wand; even if a Tikhanovskaya government was to take over tomorrow, it would take years and decades to implement the changes outlined in her manifesto. You just have to look at Ukraine today to get a flavour of what such a future could hold. Belarusians have to think about this: be careful what you wish for.

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Olivia Kroth
August 20, 2020

All of these suble or not so suble attempts to take influence in Belarus, as described by author Johanna Ross, do not really matter, since the attempted coup in Belarus has failed. The re-elected President Alexander Lukashenko and his Government team are working just fine, thank you.

Olivia Kroth
Reply to  Olivia Kroth
August 20, 2020
Olivia Kroth
Reply to  Olivia Kroth
August 20, 2020

BELTA:

A criminal case has been opened against the so-called “Coordination Council”, Belarus Prosecutor General Konyuk told reporters

https://eng.belta.by/society/view/konyuk-criminal-case-opened-against-coordination-council-in-belarus-132734-2020/

Olivia Kroth
Reply to  Olivia Kroth
August 20, 2020

Mir 24 TV::

Belarus Prosecutor general Konyuk announces criminal case against rioting opposition and their wannabe “coordination council” in Belarus:

Olivia Kroth
August 20, 2020

TASS:

Putin tells European Council president that meddling in Belarus’ affairs is counterproductive

https://tass.com/politics/1191941

Olivia Kroth
Reply to  Olivia Kroth
August 20, 2020

TASS:

Direct and indirect outside interference observed in Belarus – Kremlin

https://tass.com/politics/1191889

Olivia Kroth
Reply to  Olivia Kroth
August 20, 2020

TASS:

Kremlin emphasizes need to keep situation in Belarus within legal framework

https://tass.com/politics/1191513

Olivia Kroth
Reply to  Olivia Kroth
August 21, 2020

TASS:

Neither Minsk nor Moscow questions Belarus’ independence

https://tass.com/world/1192083

Mikey Pompadour
Mikey Pompadour
Reply to  Olivia Kroth
August 22, 2020

We spit on your legal framework. I’d throw a shoe at it too if my feet didn’t smell so bad.

Last edited 3 months ago by Mikey Pompadour
Rule of Law
Rule of Law
Reply to  Mikey Pompadour
August 22, 2020

That’s right, we forgot. You only acknowledge old Soviet edicts from Stalin and Krushchev.

Beatus
Beatus
August 20, 2020

Anti-government protests? They only know what they don’t want. Do they know what they want? Do they have a program? Who is this nobody who wants to be president with 10% of the votes? And how do those 27 European leaders meddling in the affairs of Belarus know the election was not fair? Oh yes of course, they were told so by Washington and Warsaw.  People in Belarus should realize that they are being instrumentalized by Washington and the subordinate EU. What a pity. They should do their own political work which serves their own country and its stability and… Read more »

BobValdez
BobValdez
Reply to  Beatus
August 21, 2020

“Who is this nobody who wants to be president with 10% of the votes?”

Another us sponsored ‘gweedo-ette’.

Last edited 3 months ago by BobValdez
Olivia Kroth
Reply to  BobValdez
August 21, 2020

She resembles a lot TV personality Miss Piggy. Same ugly snout. Maybe she is Miss Piggy’s half-sister?

Promises, promises
Promises, promises
Reply to  BobValdez
August 22, 2020

But she promised to hold new elections right away, like that gal in Bolivia. LOL

Double, double, toil and trouble
Double, double, toil and trouble
Reply to  Beatus
August 22, 2020

Do they have a program?

Who? Lithuania? Poland? the EU? the US? the UK? Be patient. They have to coordinate a bit more for effect..

Fitzpons
Fitzpons
August 20, 2020

It is fascinating how all those red and white flags and banners conveniently written in English appeared as if by magic on cue.

Beatus
Beatus
Reply to  Fitzpons
August 20, 2020

Perhaps tomorrow they will wave American flags and so demonstrate that they are betraying their own homeland.

bluedogg
bluedogg
Reply to  Beatus
August 21, 2020

Just like in Hong Kong when all those U.S, flags just seem to pop out from no where…

Promises, promises
Promises, promises
Reply to  bluedogg
August 22, 2020

They raided a mainland Chinese factory to get them.

Olivia Kroth
Reply to  Beatus
August 21, 2020

In Belarus, rallies continue against the attempted coup d’etat in support of President Lukashenko. Today Vitebsk, Pinsk, Slutsk, Nesvizh, Rechitsa, Molodechno and other cities came out under the Belarusian and Soviet flags.

Olivia Kroth
Reply to  Fitzpons
August 21, 2020

The red and white flags are Nazi flags. They were used in 1943 in Belarus by the SS Schutzstaffel, when the Nazi Wehrmacht invaded the Soviet Union.

Made in Ukraine
Made in Ukraine
Reply to  Olivia Kroth
August 22, 2020

They were used before that too. You’re overdoing it. Get back to us when you spot a wolfsangel.

Chris Murphy
Chris Murphy
Reply to  Made in Ukraine
August 22, 2020

Wolfsangel? Isn’t that a sign of neoliberal democracy?

The Invisible Man
The Invisible Man
Reply to  Chris Murphy
August 22, 2020

Just after Maidan, I sent my senator images of all the neo-nazi, Hitler and white power runes and stuff that were waving through the crowds and asked him ‘who the hell are you supporting there?’

He responded with some canned gobbledegook about ‘Russian aggression’. America is a land of dopes led by even dopier dopes. 😉

Olivia Kroth
Reply to  Made in Ukraine
August 22, 2020

The flag was used first by the German army of Kaiser Wilhelm in Belarus, after the Russian Empire lost the First World War. It was an imperialist flag. Next it was used by the SS Schutzstaffel, when they invaded the Belarus Soviet Republic, in 1943. The red-white-red flag is an imperialist and fascist flag, invented by the Germans, that’s why Belarusian patriots of today do not like it.

US lock 'em In Dept.
US lock 'em In Dept.
Reply to  Fitzpons
August 22, 2020

Our mission is creating chaos on cue and then spreading around a lot of glue.

Clarity
Clarity
August 20, 2020

Interesting how they are now showing the large crowds. They did not in the beginning because they did not exist in the beginning, but the narrative was encouraging enough for others to feel they might miss out if they won’t join. One small step of the propaganda machine. People like to follow, people like to be part of the crowd. And yes, mind all of the professionally created signage and flags. Grassroots movements look very different.

Fitzpons
Fitzpons
Reply to  Clarity
August 20, 2020

Classic case of astro-turfing. The same leaders are getting their own people to clamour for ever more authoritarian government! Orwell was right about the “plebs” I fear.

Fitzpons
Fitzpons
August 20, 2020

Brilliant article by Neil Clark exposing rank hypocrisy of authoritarian western leaders condemning Lukashenko:
http://www.ronpaulinstitute.org/archives/featured-articles/2020/august/20/belarus-where-a-dictator-is-condemned-by-those-who-supported-lockdowns-in-their-own-country/

Olivia Kroth
August 21, 2020

Right after the failed coup d’etat in Belarus, we hear and read about Russian opposition activist Navalny allegedly being “poisoned” in Siberia. Is this another punch and judy show of western secret services to detract from their failure in Belarus and to put all the blame on Russia again?

Olivia Kroth
Reply to  Olivia Kroth
August 21, 2020

I find the timing suspicious. So much “drama” in just one week!

The Sweet Smell of Napalm in the Morning
The Sweet Smell of Napalm in the Morning
Reply to  Olivia Kroth
August 22, 2020

Convenient, wasn’t it?

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