How the unrest in Belarus may prove to be Putin’s golden ticket to European control.
By Tom Jankowski
The twenty-six year-long regime of the Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko is more precarious than ever since the nation’s August elections that saw the sitting head of state champion over his rival, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, in an 80% landslide victory. The results—riddled with irregularities and overt signs of manipulation—have sparked outrage around the globe. Many are now calling for the man the media has once dubbed “Europe’s last dictator” to finally relinquish the power that he has so vehemently held on to for nearly three decades.
Various world leaders have condemned Lukashenko’s regime and the handling of the elections. The mounting media pressure has forced EU nations’ representatives to convene to formulate a list of sanctions that will be placed on both individual cabinet members of the Lukashenko administration and some of the country’s major European exports.
This retaliation marks the end of a four-year economic allyship between Belarus and the West, which saw sanctions lifted when Lukashenko fended off Russian attempts of establishing military bases on Belarusian soil for fear of the Kremlin gaining too strong a sway over the region.
However, Lukashenko once again finds himself ostracised from the West, and in an attempt to retain his power, he has turned to the man he has once renounced: Vladimir Putin. Ever since the protests in Minsk erupted, the two have communicated daily. It is suspected that Putin will offer both his influence and wallet in an effort to quell the disorder. Russian operatives have already been spotted in the state television station’s offices, which Lukashenko commonly employs to disseminate propaganda. Many other forms of Russian influence are likely to appear in the coming weeks.
The unrest in Belarus is a golden opportunity for Putin, who has been trying to gain influence over the nation, and, therefore, the region, for years. If he is successful in keeping Lukashenko in office, the West will most likely maintain, if not increase, the sanctions that they have already announced.
The economic ramifications for Belarus would be disastrous if it suddenly lost its significant trading partners such as Germany, Lithuania, or Poland. Enter Putin, who would likely make up for the loss in trade himself and thus secure even greater leverage over the country than he already has.
Belarus, despite being a small landlocked nation of 9.5 million, is a highly strategic and attractive target for Putin as it borders two EU nations and three NATO nations. Controlling a state with such a location will help Russia attain the goal, which it has been working towards for years: re-establishing itself as a truly European country in order to sway the power dynamic in issues concerning European security.
Russia has previously attempted to gain greater influence over Belarus by threatening to increase oil and gas prices to match the market value if it did not take meaningful measures to establish a political union between the two nations. Now, with Russia holding all of the bargaining chips, Belarus will likely be unable to refuse the de facto annexation.
Putin’s plan has been in motion for years and if it finally comes to fruition there will be great changes in both European and global geopolitics. The reaction of entities such as the European Union, NATO, or the UN Security Council are difficult to predict, however, if things go according to plan for Russia, we will see great policy changes in the near future that may affect global politics and economics alike. □
- Image source
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