The longtime regime of Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko is on the verge of collapsing as his country is witnessing the most massive protests. As the opposition protestors seek a way to power by street rallies and strikes triggered by disputed elections, the President has stepped up to reestablish his control after ten days. Eighty percent of the votes went to Lukashenko as per official results, but the opposition claims the results to be fraudulent. The capital of Minsk saw tens of thousands of people coming together in defiance of the election victory.
On Sunday, hoards of protesters of around 2 lakh gathered on the streets of the former Soviet republic under Lukashenko’s reign since 1994, chanting anti-government slogans and waving the traditional red and white flag, a symbol of the opposition since the President assumed power and replaced it with a more Soviet-looking national flag. Lukashenko is striving to put an end to the unrest at Minsk.
At least three protesters have died, and police detained almost 7,000 people and injured hundreds during the four days of protest.
The united opposition candidate against Lukashenko, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, is ready to serve as a temporary “national leader” and conduct a new set of elections within six months with international supervision any unfairness of Lukashenko. She has also given her word to set the political prisoners free and take the country back to the pre-Lukashenko constitution.
In contrast to the moderate Tikhanovskaya, many protestors have laid their lives on the line and vehemently oppose Lukashenko’s regime. Though they are not framing the movement as a pro-Russian or pro-western one, and wish to settle the matter on their own, they may seek foreign support if the President gains stability. In the meantime, there is no constituency in the country for a Russian intervention.
Tikhanovskaya urged the European Union (EU) leaders on Wednesday to reject the election results, stating that the President had “lost all legitimacy in the eyes of our nation and the world” and asked the EU to join in the “awakening of Belarus.” After being detained for long after the voting, she left for Lithuania. She also raised her voice about the episodes of police brutality and torture against the imprisoned protestors.
Just as the EU leaders agreed to impose sanctions at a virtual summit and European Council President Charles Michel said that the election results were null and void for the EU and the President must release all detainees, Lukashenko told his security council that “There should no longer be any disorder in Minsk of any kind.” Apparently, for the peace of the people, he ordered the border controls to be tightened to prevent an influx of further unrest.
Furthermore, Lukashenko branded his opponents “Western puppets” as the country’s prosecutor general announced criminal charges against opposition leaders.
Many workers at state media had gone on strike following the rigged elections, and the President strictly warned that they would not get their jobs back. He is reportedly bringing in Russian replacements in their place. Police checking has been increased in the capital.
According to reports, Lukashenko has approved of a cabinet constituting of many key members of the previous government reappointed in their roles. Former Prime Minister Roman Golovchenko, Interior Minister Yuri Karayev, are likely to retain their positions. The lower house of parliament is yet to provide consent to the proposed government.
A day after Lukashenko warned the strike participants that they would face dismissal in a bid to stop the spreading of unrest, it was announced that opposition leaders were being investigated on charges of undermining national security.
Response of EU:
EU leaders unanimously decided that they would impose sanctions, including asset freezes for officials involved in the alleged rigging of votes, brutality, and imprisoning protesters. They have discarded the outcome of the elections and stand in solidarity with the protestors. However, they have not negated the President’s authority.
They are also interested in meditating between the government and the opposition to establish a peaceful way for the President to stand down and transfer power. Moreover, 53 million euros of financial support would be reassigned to NGOs from the state, with some money assigned to aid the victims of violence and set up alternative media houses free of government backing. Some EU states that have formerly been parts of the Soviet Union or Warsaw Pact want more robust action to be taken by Brussels.
After Belarus’s Prosecutor General announced a launch of criminal cases against the Coordination Council, a new body formed by opposition leaders, Bruce Millar, Amnesty International’s Acting Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, stated: “Not content with arresting thousands of protesters, torturing detainees and beating up journalists and medics, the Belarusian authorities have now accused peaceful opposition leaders of being a threat to national security. This demonstrates just how far the regime of Alyaksandr Lukashenka is willing to go to cling to power. If anything is threatening peace and security in Belarus, it is the authorities’ violence against their people.”
He further based the Belarus authorities and said: “that there is no further question or illusion that the authorities are interested in respecting human rights and the rule of law. Adding to which, he said that they are trying to reach out to Belarusian authorities to end the abuse against peaceful protestors and remind them about their obligation towards international law to respect the right to freedom of expression. The Prosecutor’s announcement is likely to aggregate and appall protestors further, and the people of Belarus must be able to express their views without fear of reprisals.”
Belarus is of great importance to Vladimir Putin, whose ambition remains to integrate the country into Russia as a part of a “union state.” On Wednesday, Dmitry Peskov, Kremlin spokesperson, said Russia had no plans to help Belarus militarily or otherwise for the time being.
Moscow has left Lukashenko to deal with his crisis single-handedly as it does not wish to turn the protest movement against him into one against Putin. However, Russia would most likely ensure that it remains involved in discussions related to Belarus’ future and try to cultivate pro-Russian politicians in the country. It would also ensure that Belarus maintains its agreements with Moscow and does not indulge in any integration with the EU or NATO.
Further developments in the matter are much awaited.