27 February 2020, Thursday, 8:40
The Wait Is Nearly Over

Jauhen Afnahel: Lukashenka’s ‘Ship’ Damaged Hard

Jauhen Afnahel: Lukashenka’s ‘Ship’ Damaged Hard
Jauhen Afnahel

The Kremlin wants to remove the dictator, but the people should decide the fate of the country.

Specialists calculated that every ton of Norwegian oil, the Belarusian authorities bought after the cessation of supplies to refineries from Russia, would cost more than $130.

Meanwhile, economists and political scientists argue that Lukashenka's oil "emirate" is over and Belarus will have to buy "black gold" at market prices. The repeatedly voiced assessment of the new Russian government as pragmatists who are not inclined to continue the "free oil" policy for Lukashenka proves this.

The Belarusian dictator has recently held a large-scale reshuffle in the law enforcement block. He told the appointments of the new heads of the Defense Ministry, Security Council and General Staff were caused by "hard times".

What is the situation the Belarusian authorities found themselves and how will further events develop?

Coordinator of the civil campaign European Belarus Jauhen Afnahel answers the questions of Charter97.org.

- January 21, Lukashenka held an emergency meeting on oil exports. How do you assess the situation, faced by the Belarusian dictator due to lack of oil supplies from Russia?

- The oil price issue is not the key or primary one in these negotiations. Oil from Kazakhstan, Norwegian oil, or oil from elsewhere in the world, will cost more than Russian oil. That is, we understand that the trade between Putin and Lukashenka has nothing to do with oil. This is just one of the pretexts.

The Kremlin is putting pressure on Lukashenka, using the levers that the Belarusian dictator put into its hands. The main lever is Lukashenka's overall dependence on Russia.

This pressure is likely political. Some mass media have already mentioned that Putin's objective is to preserve the status quo in Belarus, but at the same time to carry out the transit of power from Lukashenka to any of his successors, who meets the will of the Kremlin just like Lukashenka, but who is more predictable and does not cause such a strong eloignement among Belarusians and Russian authorities.

It is also clear that any loss of power for Lukashenka, even if this power is transferred to his successor, is fatal. He has made too many enemies both inside and outside the country. As soon as he loses power, he will immediately have to be responsible for killing opposition politicians, repressions, stealing, ruining the economy, and so on.

The worst thing is that Belarusian people are not involved in this scheme. Our task is to get involved. To ensure the fate of Belarus is decided not behind closed doors, not behind the scenes, not by the people who have nothing to do with our country, but by the Belarusians themselves. This is the key task both for the opposition and people. In general, it guarantees the survival of the Belarusian nation as such.

After all, if a nation has no political subjectivity and cannot influence its life, development and future, then such a nation has no future. It's all about the right to recover to have the Belarusian's fate in their hands.

- If the situation remains unchangeable, how can it end for Lukashenka's economic system? How strong may his "margin of safety" be?

- It is like speculating on the strength of a ship, which has already been damaged hard and is sinking to the bottom. This ship is under the command of a captain who does not know how to control it. Therefore, no predictions are welcomed here.

Perhaps Lukashenka will agree on something. He may slightly extend his time in power. Nevertheless, he is not able to solve the key problems the country faces. The only thing that kept him afloat was huge Russian subsidies. Discussing the dictator's "margin of safety" is as the same as discussing whether a drug addict can live without the regular "dose".

We need to discuss how to win real independence, regain the right to run our country, and return real and fair elections, change the government. This is what the overwhelming majority of Belarusians are concerned about. This is the main problem in the country.

- But the growth of protest moods, including social protests, is one of the factors that can trigger a change in power. Can the situation get out of Lukashenka's control, which makes economic problems start to grow avalanche-like and cause social protests?

- I would like to give an example we have recently faced. A few days ago, my friends and I went to Orsha to meet Dzmitry Kazlou (blogger Grey Cat - ed.), who was to be released from prison. We spent almost a whole day in the city, talked to the Orsha residents.

People told about salaries of 200 rubles. Orsha residents, men of 30-40 years old told us that in summer they went to work in Russia because there's no work there. They told that local enterprises stood idle for weeks and workers had forced vacations. They told they had no money to support families.

Orsha is a large district centre, a railway hub. It has many enterprises, a flax mill, an aircraft repair plant. Lukashenka visited it several times. Everyone said that there were no prospects in the city. Not in terms of work, business development or anything else.

The second example (one of the topics discussed by taxi drivers and motorists) is a growing price for gasoline. This issue is being discussed throughout the country. If gasoline costs more, the price for all goods grows higher. This year, one should expect price growth for everything. Both because Lukashenka has failed to agree with Russia, and because the economy is gradually heading to its collapse. Everyone sees and understands it.

Therefore, it is natural that economic and social problems are the main headache of the dictator and the people. Salaries in the regions may be equal to only Br70-100.

- In this situation, Lukashenka has held a serious reshuffle in the power block. Why did the dictator do it and will it bring any effect?

- Reshuffles in an election year are caused not by a good life. Officials of different levels discuss prospects, including those regarding the change of power.

Lukashenka, who is very afraid of plots, make reshuffles. I would like to highlight the significance of the hour: the parliamentary "elections" are over, while the presidential ones are to come.

It means that the dictator is not confident in his entourage. He realizes that he has no one to rely on. He makes reshuffles as he believes it may keep him safe.

But his safety is questionable. The experience of other dictators shows that the closest entourage is always the first to denounce. The same will happen in Belarus.

- What is the difference between the political situation in Belarus and the pre-election months in the past campaigns? Will the year 2020 be decisive for our country?

Assessing the current situation, I'd like to say that one more reason for scandalous dismissals in the government and reshuffles is the lost elections.

They lost the last parliamentary elections. I mean the real voter turnout. We have seen the real moods of people. We were looking for Lukashenka's supporters and failed with this task.

5-6 people out of a thousand said: "Yes, we support this power". But they were either marginal or just inadequate people. Lukashenka has no real supporters, and he knows that.

He also knows that his officials failed to cope with a simple task: to ensure at least a minimal voter turnout, to ensure a minimal trust to this power, at least within a statistical error. Such a simple task failed. That is why Miasnikovich, Kachanava and many others were dismissed.

Based on the latest objective events - the lack of agreements with Russia, problems with salaries, the economic crisis - the dictator drives into an increasingly difficult situation on the eve of the presidential elections. He keeps talking about hard times.

That is, no matter how much he calms himself down with new appointments and fake numbers at the elections, he knows that it will be very hard for him to make it through. This year is the hardest one. He mentions it in almost every speech. It means that we have every opportunity and a good chance to change the power this year.