It is in the interests of the West to help the civil society in Belarus.
The Polish publication “Rzeczpospolita” published an article by Polish historian and diplomat, former Polish Ambassador to Belarus (2011-2015) Leszek Szerepka. The Charter97.org website has translated the article from Polish:
- Poland has always tried to support the foundations of the Belarusian statehood and the development of the civil society, and not the Lukashenka regime. There are opportunities to continue such a policy.
Before the presidential elections scheduled for December 2010 in Belarus, the Belarusian-Russian relations sharply worsened. Moscow refused to supply oil at preferential prices, and increased the gas rate. A campaign aimed at discrediting the Belarusian dictator began in the Russian media. Lukashenka rushed about, trying to secure alternative sources of energy supplies. By the way, he made several minor gestures towards the EU, which, however, were noticed in Brussels. Minsk was visited by the heads of diplomacy of Poland and Germany, who offered significant financial assistance in exchange for changing the vector of integration.
Why am I recalling this? Politicians seem to have a short memory, and the current political situation in Belarus is beginning to resemble that of a decade ago.
Whose army is this?
New presidential elections are scheduled for the summer of 2020. Russia again refused to supply oil on preferential terms. Lukashenka began to defiantly search for alternative supply routes, knowing that they would not ensure the profitability of the Belarusian refineries. At the same time, the thesis appeared that it was not about oil, but about independence. The Americans decided to demonstrate support for Lukashenka. In early February, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo promised cheap oil supplies to Minsk.
The crisis of the decade ended with the fact that before the election day Lukashenka, playing with the support of the West, reached an agreement with Moscow on controversial issues. He brutally dispersed the street protests, several hundred people were jailed. The dictator publicly stated that he was about to feel sick of this constant talk of democracy.
And now, as in 2010, Lukashenka will try to use the Western support in negotiations with Russia.
I have always wondered why there are so many politicians in democracies who want to play the role of useful idiots, and in crisis situations they throw a life buoy to the dictator. Proponents of such actions most often use the argument that Lukashenka is currently the sole guarantor of Belarusian statehood, and it is better that a Belarusian, rather than a Russian, soldiers stand on the Bug river. The argument is so weighty that it is untrue. I want to say - like guarantor, like statehood.
In the book “Faces of Belarus”, published several years ago, I wrote that the Belarusian army is actually part of the Russian army. I do not know the arguments that could undermine this thesis, and the example of the West exercises shows that the Belarusian army is preparing to carry out tasks that have little to do with protecting the sovereignty of the republic. Currently, the Belarusian soldier and the Russian soldier differ only by uniform and stripes. Ignoring this fact in a real conflict situation can have fatal consequences.
The fact that we are returning to old, compromised ideas is confirmed, among other things, by the recent statements made by politicians of the ruling coalition in Poland. They say that due to the Russian threat, Belarus will soon become a priority for Polish diplomacy, and that an alternative must be created for Lukashenka. They act on the principle “it is better to have a devil in Minsk than a Muscovite.”
This policy was built on false grounds. Lukashenka is a mentally integral part of the “Russian world”. He is convinced that the West poses a greater threat to his power than Russia. He is interested in finance, technology and Western support in a factional struggle with Moscow, but not in the EU integration, since he created, in essence, an anti-European and anti-Polish regime.
This does not mean that Belarus should not be a priority for Poland. However, not because of Russia, but because of a common history, common borders and numerous national minorities on both sides. This has been the case for many years. The problem is how to fill policy.
Sovereign, democratic Poland usually tried to follow the principle that it was necessary to support the foundations of the Belarusian statehood and the development of the civil society, and not directly the Lukashenka regime. There are adequate tools for such a policy.
The cheapest and most effective is to cancel EU visas for Belarusians. Blocking such a decision under the pretext of a security threat, when hundreds of thousands of migrants enter the EU, is at least incomprehensible. It is also difficult to explain the refusal to implement the agreement on small border traffic or the slow modernization and expansion of border infrastructure.
If in Warsaw there are any doubts about Lukashenka’s real intentions, this can easily be verified using as litmus paper his attitude to Poles living in Belarus, who are still discriminated, and deprived of their basic rights set forth in the treaties. This situation only confirms that regardless of the assessment of the geopolitical situation, support for this regime is counterproductive for Poland.
Chances of the West
The political system created by Lukashenka has become numb, and more and more focuses on his own survival. It is in the interests of sovereign Belarus not to maintain such a situation, but to change power as soon as possible and create a pluralistic political system. Only this can give Belarus a new impetus for development, which will strengthen the state, and make it more effective in protecting its interests against Russia's imperial ambitions.
The West has a chance to help the Belarusian society in achieving this goal only if it imposes its own calendar and political agenda on Lukashenka, without trying to meet his expectations.