Belarusian opposition split by political emigrants
Sannikov’s team aims to create its own focal point in exile, which means they will not join the Vilnius memorandum of the Belarusian opposition. Very likely, this process will result in emergence of two competing centres of Belarusian opposition and will leave zero chances for a broad democratic coalition in the next 2-3 years.
Last week, a number of events were held in Warsaw with MEP Migalski’s support and with the participation of “European Belarus” campaign, headed by former presidential candidate Andrey Sannikov.
Sannikov’s team continues efforts to set up an emigration focal point. In particular, on November 16-17, with the support of MEP Migalski, a number of Warsaw-based Belarusian socio-political centres and Diaspora representatives organized meetings with Polish Sejm Deputies.
This is a natural process for Sannikov’s team, since European Belarus’ core members have already emigrated abroad and they need to create a structure out there ‘for themselves’. That is the reason why Sannikov, who was granted political asylum in Britain, had refused to support the initiative by 14 members of the Belarusian opposition, the so-called Vilnius memorandum “Measures to ensure Belarus’ independence”, which was presented on November 3rd under the auspices of Belarusian People’s Republic Rada. In the meanwhile, neither Sannikov, nor his colleagues have yet disclosed their future political strategy.
Objectively speaking, the European Belarus’ actions will result in emergence of at least two hubs of Belarusian opposition abroad: one in Warsaw (or London) and the other in Vilnius. It could also happen that the supporting offices of both hubs will be located in Warsaw. Sannikov’s team advantage is that they can organize relatively broad information campaigns, supported by influential English-speaking media, and Internet campaigns via Charter97.org website. In particular, on November 23rd, the Guardian published an interview with Sannikov, calling him the most prominent figure in the Belarusian opposition.
Following emigration of the most active members of European Belarus, Sannikov’s influence in Belarus is likely to continue to decline. Sannikov’s team lacks trust, which is proved by the fact that new immigrant centers are set up “from a scratch” without the participation of other influential politicians and in parallel with the coalition established in Vilnius. As for Sannkov’s electoral popularity, he does not stand out from all other ex-candidates who ever aimed for presidency in Belarus. Electoral popularity of all ex-candidates during the first year after the elections remained at the same level as during the election campaign, and two years after the elections was around 5% if actively mentioned in the media.
If the idea of new alternative focal points of the Belarusian opposition abroad is successful, then, objectively speaking, the chances for the Belarusian opposition to agree on a ‘single’ candidate for the 2015 presidential campaign reduce to zero. Simultaneously, increased competition between the focal points can result in competitive strategic action plans in the opposition. The latter, the most positive option, is unlikely: the opposition either follows previous strategies (Vilnius Memorandum) or simply has no public political strategy (Sannikov’s group).
President Lukashenka has met with the head of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov, who visited Minsk and the Minsk Automobile Plant. Minsk has always sought to have independent links with Russian regional elites, partially, to compensate for the Kremlin's diminishing interest in Belarus. In recent years, Belarus’ contacts with the Russian regions have been extremely intense. However, with some leaders of Russian regions, primarily heads of large republics, communication was more difficult to build. As many analysts in Minsk suggested, Minsk could regard contacts between President Lukashenka and the head of Chechnya as an additional communication channel for relieving tension in relations with the Kremlin. However, most likely, a trusting relationship with Kadyrov is a value for Minsk as such, provided Kadyrov’s broad business and political interests, and a high degree of autonomy for the Chechen leader from the Kremlin.