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How Lukashenko plays on the "Moscow Stock Exchange", "flirting" with the West at the same time

On October 9, an article titled "Wrong analytical lenses undermine the West's Belarus Policy" by Mr. Yauheni Preiherman was published on the Oxford University Politics Blog. What a title! It sounds like something that could have been concocted by someone from Lukashenko’s Foreign Minister Aleynik's department. It appears that this is Mr. Preiherman's first publication on OXPOL. Let's hope it's his last. Why?

Well, let's just say that this article reminds me of the all-too-familiar narratives of Lukashenko’s Foreign Ministry, not just in its title but also in its content. In fact, the content is even more intriguing and hypocritical

If we were to summarize the article briefly, Mr. Preiherman suggests that Lukashenko isn't as terrible as he is portrayed in the West. On the contrary, he portrays him as a skilled individual who adeptly balances and maintains situational neutrality, almost guaranteeing the security of Ukraine and the region. It's just that the terrible West started pressuring him too much and took away his opportunity to pursue a "multi-vector" approach.

So, why is the West so “evil”?

Well, sure, there's the issue of dictatorship and repression. However, according to Mr. Preiherman, there were repressive actions in Belarus before. But then Lukashenko made a few concessions to alleviate Western pressure, and lo and behold, the situation regarding human rights in Belarus "visibly improved"!

Is this Lukashenko’s clever multi-step strategy? To orchestrate repression, face sanctions, and then gradually and visibly "improve" everything, albeit not irreversibly?

Well, the Belarusian people have witnessed just how visible these "improvements" in political rights and freedoms were after the 2020 elections. Today, there are officially recognized 1,500 political prisoners, but in reality, the number is closer to 5,000. Over 1,440 public organizations have been dissolved, along with independent media outlets and political parties. Not to mention at least 136,000 crimes against humanity, aggression, war, and war crimes.

Sure, the scale of repression has escalated significantly. Mass torture, murder, and rape of women, men, and children with police batons. But according to Mr. Preiherman, it's all the West's fault.

If there wasn't any pressure, everything would settle down. But for some reason, the West didn't want to understand the "difficult geopolitical situation" of the dictator, and its reactions only pushed Lukashenko to further repress, torture, and kill. It forced him to hijack the Ryanair plane, wage a migration war, and involve himself in the war against Ukraine. And let's not forget the deportation of Ukrainian children. It's all the West's fault, isn't it?

Yauheni Preiherman
Yauheni Preiherman

Moreover, Mr. Preiherman conveniently disregards and avoids focusing attention on the listed atrocities committed by Lukashenko. It's reminiscent of how official representatives of the Lukashenko regime behave on international platforms from which they have not yet been expelled.

Perhaps this is because all of this is deemed unimportant, as Lukashenko supposedly didn't really want any of it, and it was the West that hindered the envisioned "gradual and visible improvements." Therefore, according to Mr. Preiherman, the West must now abandon its "unconstructive and malicious policy," cease its pressure, and improve relations with Lukashenko. Turn the page, so to speak.

Do you realize how hypocritical all of this sounds? In essence, Mr. Preiherman rationalizes and whitewashes the crimes of Lukashenko, who terrorizes and imprisons Belarusians every day, and continuously drives illegal migrants towards the EU borders. He also continues to support Russia in its war efforts. The proposal to engage in dialogue with him, while disregarding his crimes, in the hope that he might soften, Mr. Preiherman, is nothing more than banal terrorism, not "foreign policy hedging."

So the proposition to understand and forgive Lukashenko, at best, appears to be an ode to Stockholm syndrome. However, there's more to it than meets the eye.

It's quite evident that this ode serves specific goals

The truth is, Lukashenko’s standing has drastically declined in the eyes of the Kremlin, and he is desperately attempting to play on the "Moscow Stock Exchange" in order to increase his value. And he is employing the "Western card" to achieve this.

This is where the so-called "multi-vector" nature of the Lukashenko regime becomes apparent, in its true form.

The regime has two different but interconnected messages for two different audiences

The message aimed at the Kremlin was formulated during Lukashenko's recent meeting with the governor of the Novosibirsk region. There, relying on "extensive reports" from his intelligence and special services, Lukashenko instilled fear in Russia by highlighting Western plans to "disrupt the unity of Russia and Belarus and dismantle the Union State." Lukashenko conveys this message with a specific objective in mind—to obtain more financial support from his "big brother."

What does Lukashenko desire? For instance, during the aforementioned meeting with the governor of the Novosibirsk region, he insisted on:

  • gaining wide access to markets, including the Russian market itself and foreign markets where Russia continues its operations;

  • increasing the number of Belarusian centers in Russia to facilitate work within these markets;

  • avoiding duplication of production in both Russia and Belarus, meaning that Russia should actively purchase products from the existing Belarusian industry, and so on.

It is evident that the economic situation of the Lukashenko regime is extremely challenging, while Russia is no longer sufficiently compensating for the losses incurred due to sanctions. In fact, Russia seems hesitant to provide the necessary compensation, as doubts arise regarding the wisdom of investing in the Lukashenko regime to the extent required. Russia realizes that Lukashenko will ultimately prioritize the Kremlin's interests, leading to the absorption of Belarusian sovereignty by Russia.

Lukashenko is deeply dissatisfied with this situation as he perceives it as not only an economic threat but also a direct challenge to his power, which relies heavily on financial support from the Kremlin. With nothing substantial to offer, he resorts to blackmail tactics, claiming that the West will tear Belarus apart and destroy its unity.

However, Lukashenko understands that empty words and threats, even when bolstered by alleged "special services reports," will no longer be taken seriously by the Kremlin. Consequently, he needs to provide some form of support for his claims.

This is where "independent analysts" like Mr. Preiherman come into play, creating a message tailored for a Western audience

It goes as follows: your policy towards Lukashenko is flawed, and you can and should cooperate with him; just turn a blind eye to certain aspects such as dictatorship, repression, violence, and even murder. Lukashenko is not anti-Western; he is simply facing difficult circumstances. Lift the sanctions and give him room to maneuver, or else the blame will fall on you if he falls completely under Russia's influence.

In essence, there is nothing new about this message. It is exactly how Lukashenko’s regime has deceived the West in the past when faced with sanctions for its crimes. And the West has fallen for it before, lifting the sanctions. However, each time the regime's crimes have escalated exponentially. Moreover, Lukashenko never had any intention of severing ties with Russia, and that remains true today. Instead, the "Western card" has helped him increase his value to his "big brother" on multiple occasions. He is counting on the same strategy now, hoping that the West will engage in dialogue with him, which he can then portray to Russia as a threat to their unity. In doing so, he aims to extract a higher price from Russia, rather than settling for the current level of support.

However, there will be no sudden shift in Lukashenko’s stance towards the West. The regime in Belarus will not soften, and there will be no "visible improvements." Nor will there be any distancing from Russia. Lukashenko will never relinquish two things: power and the Russian "feeding trough." They are intricately linked.

If we imagine a scenario where the West falls for yet another lie from the regime, and Russia genuinely believes in the possibility of improving relations between the West and Lukashenko, agreeing to his conditions, Lukashenko’s first action upon obtaining what he desires would be to abandon the West, just as he has done in the past.

By placing trust in "independent analysts" like Mr. Preiherman, the West would only allow Lukashenko to profit. It would enable him to sell Belarusian sovereignty at a higher price.

Therefore, the only appropriate response from the West to accusations of a "wrong policy" towards Lukashenko and proposals to cease pressuring him and engage in dialogue can be specific counter-demands:

  • immediate release of all political prisoners;

  • complete cessation of repression in Belarus;

  • rehabilitation of all individuals who have been unlawfully convicted and deported from the country;

  • ending migration attacks against the EU and ceasing support for Russia's war against Ukraine;

  • conducting new elections in accordance with democratic standards.

Any other approach to the Lukashenko regime would truly be a "wrong analytical lens," one that not only undermines but also destroys any hope for change in Belarus.


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