Why the U.S. should ignore Belarus’ unlikely appeal
Desperate times call for desperate measures.
This is likely what Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko was thinking last week when calling on the United States, which dubbed him “Europe’s last dictator.” In a rare interview with Western media, Minsk’s strongman urged Washington to engage in talks to resolve the Ukraine crisis and stressed that “without the Americans, there can be no stability in Ukraine.” Even by Lukashenko’s eccentric standards, this is quite an about-turn on a country that he has long accused of trying to oust him and that, in turn, has blacklisted him, his cronies and their businesses for blatant human rights abuses. Yet, surprising as this seems, it hardly signals a change of heart. Instead, it is a tactical move solely aimed at preserving Lukashenko’s autocratic rule.
Lukashenko’s regime rests on several pillars. At home, a vertical of power has maintained tight control over politics, state administration, and courts. The extensive security apparatus silences political opposition, independent media, and civil society. The largely state-controlled economy ensures material redistribution, purchasing political acquiescence from elites and society. Abroad, Belarus is allied to Russia, without whose cheap energy, loans and preferential market access it cannot survive. While pretending to seek ever-deeper integration with Russia, however, Minsk is primarily interested in this steady flow of subsidies. Whenever the political price asked by the Kremlin becomes too high, Belarus typically turns to the West, feigns rapprochement and liberalization, collects loans and aid, and waits until Russia gives in to its blackmail. This combination of rigid rule from within and crafty maneuvering without has kept Lukashenko in power for over two decades.