“In Belarus, the regime is getting stronger at the expense of state sovereignty”
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Participating from Monday and until the end of the month in “defensive maneuvers” with Moscow, Belarus continued its role as Russia’s rear base without fighting. A refined posture, which has allowed President Alexander Lukashenko to cement his grip on power, despite attacks on his country’s sovereignty.
Belarus has been participating, since Monday, January 16, in “defensive maneuvers” organized on its territory with Russia, an additional step in the support provided to Moscow by its main European ally. The country, led by Alexander Lukashenko since 1994, thus serves as Russia’s rear base. By October, it was already hosting nearly 9,000 Russian troops, while treating the wounded and providing equipment and logistical support.
“Alexander Lukashenko used all kinds of pretexts to withstand Putin’s pressure, without bringing out the discontent of his own people, who do not want to go to war. He was somehow caught up in crime,” said journalist and historian Galia Ackerman.
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“Lukashenko managed to play a skilful game for now”
For while Russia denies calling for Belarus to enter the war, observers say Moscow’s demands have grown more pressing in recent months. Vladimir Putin then went to Minsk last December, his first in three years. But participating directly in the conflict could be dangerous for Belarus’ president, three years after a major protest movement and when the majority of the population opposes him.
“The Belarusian president needs to be very careful, continued Gallia Ackerman. If it were possible he would resign to fight, his army is against him, and such a decision would weaken his power. Time to play the skillful game of providing a kind of ‘minimum services’ to Russia.”
A difficult position, while Belarus is more dependent on its Russian neighbor. The deployment of Russian troops in the country effectively removes the regime’s control over its own territory: as was the case at the start of the conflict, the Kremlin could decide at any time to launch a new ground assault on Ukraine from Belarus, which is a hundred kilometers from Kyiv.
The country’s extreme economic dependence on Russia is also reinforced by steps taken to sanction the repression of the 2020 protest movement. As such, Belarus is dependent on Russia for oil and gas, but also for exports of its manufactured goods, such as tractors, which not suitable. to the Western market.
“The majority of Belarusian exchanges go through Russia, reports lecturer at the University of Bordeaux-Montaigne Olga Gille-Belova. Belarus has also taken out a new loan from Russia in December. However, by selling Belarusian sovereignty, Lukashenko managed to strengthen his personal power. The regime grew stronger at the expense of the country’s sovereignty, the war in Ukraine worked in its favour.”
More than 1,430 political prisoners
The Belarusian president can indeed count on new support from his allies, Russia really needs stability in the last friendly space he left in Europe. Far from having any doubts in 2020, Lukashenko can now count on the Kremlin’s backing, which seems to reassure him.
A weighty argument, further strengthened by the country’s isolation on the international scene, which cut off the opposition-in-exile from all contact with the population.
“If discontent continues in the country, war and repression prevent civil society from mobilizing, develop Olga Gille-Belova. The ‘new iron curtain’ that has fallen on Russia and Belarus has finally protected Lukashenko, keeping the opposition at bay.”
The regime has also taken advantage of this to end the violent repression it has deployed against any protests since the 9 August 2020 presidential election, which the international community has deemed fraudulent.
Refugee in Vilnius, in Lithuania, exiled opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaïa was thus tried, Tuesday, in absentia, in Minsk, a modality permitted by a law passing in July 2022. She faces up to 20 years in prison, and her nationality can also repealed, thanks to a decree signed on January 5.
The political trial, following the one held last week, was against Nobel Peace Prize winner Ales Bialiatski and journalists from the previous Tut.by website. The wave of repression, is far from ending: according to the Belarusian NGO Viasna, there are currently 1,439 political prisoners being held in Belarus, for 9.34 million people.