The clashes between the Belarusian opposition and President Lukashenko threaten to rapidly degenerate into an international conflict. Russia seems to want to play a major role and this could have far-reaching consequences.
Yesterday, the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, spoke in Moscow with his Belarusian counterpart Vladimir Makei. After that conversation Lavrov unexpectedly announced that the Russian Prime Minister, Mikhail Mishoestin, was going to visit Minsk today. And then, one of these days, a meeting between the presidents Vladimir Putin and Alexander Lukashenko is scheduled.
Political meetings are taking place while the demonstrations in Belarus continue. Riot police in Minsk are cracking down on student protests in Minsk:
Lavrov spoke harsh words after his conversation with Makei. Especially the reproaches to Ukraine, neighbour of both Russia and Belarus, were heavy. According to Lavrov the Ukrainians provoke and finance the destabilization of Belarus with radical actions. In fact, according to the Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs, there are currently 200 “extremists” trained in Ukraine who are active in Belarus. Harsh words, but Lavrov gave no evidence at all.
High price for support Russia
It wasn’t just Ukraine that got it, the West got it, too. According to Lavrov, it can’t say goodbye to its “dominant position” in the world and it tries to maintain power through “completely illegal approaches, including sanctions and interventions”.
Considering Mishoestin’s visit to Minsk and Lukashenko’s upcoming visit to Moscow, the statements seem the prelude to a direct intervention by Moscow in Belarus. There is even talk of an ‘Anschluss’. It is not that far yet, but it is clear that Lukashenko, if he stays in power, will have to pay a high price for the support he gets from his big brother in the east. How high is not yet to say. This could range from the far-reaching integration into a state union that Putin has been hammering away at for years to full annexation.
Putin: Belarus fair elections
Lukashenko himself took an advance on Tuesday on that as yet unknown future. He talked about a “common homeland in which two peoples live with the same roots”, referring to Russia and Belarus. “This is a fatherland from Brest, from Belarus, to Vladivostok, in the far east of Russia”.
So Lukashenko has Putin’s support. This is evident from the Russian police reserves that the Russian president promised if the Belarusian riot police and security forces can no longer cope with the protest. And from the Russian journalists and technicians sent by Russia to replace employees of the Belarusian state broadcaster, who sided with the opposition.
It also emerges from Mr Putin’s comment that the Belarussian presidential elections of 9 August, which, according to the opposition, were a large fraudulent gang, were ‘absolutely fair’. And Putin calls Belarus ‘the country closest to us’.
No EU sanctions
So far, the international impact of the Belarus conflict has been limited. The Baltic countries have imposed sanctions, but the EU has been particularly concerned by the irregularities and police violence following the elections. Brussels has shown some teeth but has not bitten, knowing that Russia will not accept direct EU support for the opposition in Belarus. If Russia takes over in Belarus and thereby automatically wipes the opposition off the table, it will probably not remain with European concerns.