The West has an instrument to influence the dictator.
Recently Belarus started to draw attention again, sort of. This time, as a new potential victim of Russian aggression. Suddenly the international media has started to mention Belarus and to express concern that Kremlin is putting pressure on the current regime, which could mean that it’s contemplating an anschluss.
Quite remarkably, the reason for this new concern is not the horrible human rights situation in the country under dictatorship, but the fate of the dictatorship which itself is being threatened by a neighboring bigger tyrant.
The fact that Lukashenka has been illegally clinging to power for almost 25 years, and has laid the groundwork for the Kremlin to move anytime to swallow Belarus, is being ignored. It was none other than Lukashenka, who signed all the agreements to create a “union” with Russia, and then in accordance with those agreements, both public and secret, destroyed the national identity of Belarusians in every possible way. Speaking native Belarusian publicly, beyond the boundaries of some language ghettos allowed by the regime, is still an act of courage in Belarus.
Indeed, the Kremlin is a threat to the independence of Belarus, even to its existence as a sovereign state. There is no doubt about that after the Russian invasion of Georgia in 2008 and the annexation of Georgian lands, and even more so, after the Russian invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Ukrainian Crimea.
There is also no doubt that Lukashenka is a peddler, capable of pawning away our independence, and not protecting, let alone fighting for it. Europe’s last dictator is notorious for his hatred of the true national identity of the country he has held as a hostage for so many years. Belarus for him is not a motherland to be proud of, but a means for enriching himself and satisfying his instincts.
The independence of Belarus is a matter of international security. It is too important strategically for Europe, to be surrendered to Putin and Lukashenka, two tyrants. It has to be protected internationally, and not through the support of the regime that offers the territory of Belarus to the Kremlin every time it wants to threaten the West with major offensive military exercises like Zapad.
The best way to help independent Belarus, is to protect and promote inside the country, principles and values on which the democratic world is founded upon, and not by supporting the repressive regime that threatens these values.
It is quite unfortunate that the West seems to have withdrawn from Belarus, leaving behind a fistful of useful idiots and a very accommodating and tamed diplomatic corps in Minsk.
It is most unfortunate that under the guise of geopolitical interests, that allegedly demand turning a blind eye on the dictatorship, the West is openly supporting Lukashenka, thus making Belarus ever more vulnerable in the face of an aggressive Kremlin.
It doesn’t take much effort to understand that there is no equal sign between Belarus and Lukashenka’s regime.
The next step, after putting two and two together, is to offer the real help needed for the independence of Belarus. Lukashenka stubbornly rejects any reforms and keeps Belarus on the brink of bankruptcy, but he needs money badly and begs the West to give it to him.
Here is the leverage. It’s not difficult to make any assistance from the West conditional, and aim it at strengthening the independence of Belarus, and the main condition should be to stop all the repression against the opposition, independent media, civil society, and those freedom fighters who truly defend Belarus independence.
Soft security has to embrace hard security concerns and avoid contradictions. There is a paradoxical situation when NATO, in recognition of a potential threat from the territory of Belarus, is strengthening its military capabilities on Europe’s eastern border and the same NATO members -within the framework of European Union- refuse to recognize those dangers and try to appease the dictator who creates conditions for such threats.
One of the recent examples of such contradictions is the EU plan to invest € 1 billion into improvin roads in Belarus, while at the same time, some Ukrainian sources have expressed concerns that Belarus has recently built 96 km of roads in the forest reserve close to Ukraine that can be used to transport soldiers, weapons and military equipment right up to the Ukrainian border. Or take the recent investigation of the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), that discovered that electronic equipment bought by Belarus with EU money is being used for crackdown on regime critics.
When Lukashenka, through his envoys, asks for money in western capitals to defend Belarus independence, his bluff should be called and real assistance to independent Belarus offered under strict, values based, conditions.
Unless meaningful investment into the independence of Belarus is made, regional security is in danger. Unless EU assistance to Belarus is tied to values, and conditioned with the absence of repression and respect for human rights, it will contribute to the growing threat from the East.
Andrei Sannikov, UpNorth
Andrei Sannikov is the Chairman of European Belarus Foundation, Deputy Foreign Minister (1995-1996), Presidential candidate in 2010, and is a former political prisoner.