Lukashenko aspires to be in the Russo-American conflict’s epicenter
On February 21st, at a meeting with KGB Chairman Vladimir Vakulchik, President Lukashenko asked about progress in building constructive relationships with the West.
President Lukashenko aims to demonstrate the independence of his policies and to enhance his political weight in negotiations with Russian President Putin, as well to strengthen discipline in the Belarus’ law enforcement agencies. Belarusian leadership needs to increase the “Western alibi”, at least for appearances’ sake.
Lukashenko wants to achieve at least two goals. First, the Belarusian President had to respond to the statement Russian President Vladimir Putin made at the February 14th meeting of Federal Security Service, that the security services of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan should reliably protect the sovereign rights of Russia and its partners in developing the Eurasian integration project. The Putin’s statement was a response to Clinton’s assessment of efforts to promote greater economic integration in Eurasia as “a move to re-Sovietize the region” (Dublin, December 2012).
Belarusian authorities are used to playing on geopolitical conflicts between the major regional powers - Russia, the EU and the U.S. Therefore President Lukashenko enjoys the “favorable” situation and aspires to be in the epicenter of a new controversy: shows interest in a constructive dialogue between Belarus and the EU and the United States immediately after the Putin’s harsh statements. The Belarusian authorities – from their perspective – want to demonstrate their geopolitical independence from the Kremlin and hope to capitalize from it.
Second, Lukashenko’s meeting with the KGB Chairman was a preventive measure. The piquancy of the situation is that when Putin made his statement about the special services of the three countries’ cooperation, Belarusian President was outside the country – on February 11th – 20th he was on a “working vacation” in Sochi. After his return, Lukashenko had to demonstrate to the Belarusian KGB and other security agencies that he (not Putin) was in charge of determining their operational objectives, whether regarding Eurasian integration, or dialogue with the West.
Moreover, during his visit to Sochi, Lukashenko did not meet with President Putin, which would be important to discuss disputable bilateral issues before the Supreme Council of the Belarus-Russia Union State meeting, scheduled for March 15th in St. Petersburg. It is therefore very likely that in the coming three weeks the Belarusian authorities will continue demonstrating interest in a new dialogue with the West. Nevertheless, the future of this yet ‘virtual’ dialogue depends on the outcomes of negotiations in St. Petersburg.
Following crackdown and arrests of participants in the spring protests, the authorities resumed arrests as punishment for participating in street protests in addition to fines, which for some time were the only punishment for political activity. On September 22nd, 2017, the riot police detained the Belarusian National Congress leader Nikolai Statkevich, the opposition politician was placed in detention centre on Akrestin street. On the same day, after serving seven days of arrest, another BNC leader, Vladimir Neklyaev, was released. He was sentenced for organising a street protest on September 8th against the West-2017 exercises. Other participants in the protest have been fined too. The authorities are likely to continue to use fines and arrests against political activists to punish for their protest activity.