Russia has no means to oust Lukashenka from power
Russia’s influence on Lukashenka is huge, but still not enough to prompt him to leave his post. Thanks to the domestic policy carried out by the Belarusian leader, Moscow no longer can stranglehold the Belarusian authorities. Statements about the alleged plans of the Kremlin to overthrow Lukashenka are insinuations aiming to put their respective owners in the spotlight.
During all 22 years of his rule, Lukashenka’s main goal was to strengthen and preserve his power. He created an efficient system preventing any challenge to his leadership inside the country.
Since coming to power in 1994, Lukashenka has held several purges among senior officials and the power block. Currently, the people, whose status roots in the existing political system with Lukashenka at the core of it, lead the country. Those who had the imprudence to demonstrate own ambitions, or dissent, or the support from the outside of the state apparatus, were promptly stripped of the real power. Including through the appointment to honorary positions, which seem important, but lack real levers of influence.
Both, the state apparatus and the law enforcement, including the security services, were reorganised. Belarus has incorporated a comprehensive monitoring system to control senior officials and directors of large enterprises. Loyalty of the law enforcement is ensured through internal institutional control and security and due to inter-departmental competition. The system has proved its efficiency, inasmuch as in the past 22 years not a single document leaked from the government system proving policy-relevant information.
In addition, time did its part: 25 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union there was a generational change in the government leadership. Those having close ties with Russia have sharply decreased in number.
Statements about the alleged plans of the Kremlin to overthrow Lukashenka are insinuations aiming to put their respective owners in the spotlight. The objective reality is that over the years of Lukashenka’s rule, Russia’s abilities to influence the power landscape in Belarus have been reset to zero. In order to oust Lukashenka from power, Moscow would have to step into an open and sharp confrontation or even to use force. And the result would hardly be predetermined.
The Belarusian authorities have revived the cyclical political agenda, including preventive crackdown with the use of force during the Freedom Day rally in Minsk and a loyal attitude to the participants in the opposition events in the regions. The protest rally in Minsk has evidenced that the Belarusian society has freed from the post-Maidan syndrome and showed high self-organisation capacity during the event in the absence of opposition leaders. In the future, the authorities are likely to expand the framework for sanctioned and legal activity for the moderate opposition in order to reduce the potential for street protests.
The Freedom Day march in Minsk on March 25th, 2017 was marked by unprecedented and brutal detentions before and during the event.
The Belarusian leadership has managed to stretch in time the political cycle - liberalization followed by repressions - and move beyond the electoral campaigns. Simultaneously, Minsk has demonstrated a rather high mobilisation potential under political slogans, despite the pressure from the state media and security forces before and during Freedom Day, including the presence of armed officers and new special equipment to disperse demonstrations in the streets of Minsk. That said, in other towns (Vitebsk, Gomel, Brest and Grodno) the Freedom Day march led by the opposition, was sanctioned by the local authorities (except Vitebsk), albeit there were fewer participants than in February and March protests against the decree on social dependants.
The Belarusian leadership has depersonalised (removed leaders) the protest, preventively weakened the protest movement, and has not opted for the harsh crackdown like in 2010 with many injured and hundreds arrested. For instance, some party leaders were preventively arrested or detained (Lebedko, Rymashevsky, Gubarevich, Neklyaev, Logvinets, Severinets) before the event. Nikolai Statkevich has disappeared and his whereabouts are currently unknown. Some could not pass through the police cordons (Yanukevich and Kostusev) or participated in the rallies in the regions (Dmitriev, Korotkevich and Milinkevich).
Despite the lack of protest leaders, some demonstrators managed to self-organize and march down the Minsk centre. The march was unauthorised but gathered several thousand participants. Many were detained by the law enforcement and later released without charges. In addition, the Belarusian law enforcers used some tactics of the western riot police against peaceful protesters, allegedly in order to mitigate the criticism from Western capitals.
Nevertheless, the Belarusian authorities have used the entire set of propaganda and power mechanisms applied during the highly politicised 2006 and 2010 elections - criminal prosecution of the opposition leaders, preventive detentions and arrests of activists, harsh propaganda campaign in the state media and, finally, the crackdown on the protest action in Minsk with the use of force.
Overall, the mobilisation potential of the Belarusian society remains high and the authorities are likely to expand the legal framework for public participation in politics in order to absorb superfluous tension.