The article below was written by IWP Research Professor Paul Coyer.
In a week in which much has occurred of geopolitical importance, the evolution of the domestic political situation in Belarus has not received as much attention as it should have. Belarus isn’t usually high on the list of countries the average American watches in terms of international news. Recent events there, however, provide good reason to give the country some attention. Public protests against the regime of Alexander Lukashenka that began in mid February in response to a tax on those employed for less than half of a year have grown and morphed into a demand for systemic political change, and have thus set up a showdown with a regime not accustomed to challenge, while stoking fears in the Kremlin that it may be facing another “color revolution” on its border, potentially triggering a muscular Russian response.
Outside observers could be forgiven for not seeing change in the wind in Belarus, where on the surface everything looked the same. Change has, nevertheless, been coming, even to “the last dictatorship of Europe”, spurred by the Ukraine crisis, which set in motion a series of changes in Lukashenka’s approach both to the West and to Putin, which changes have been working themselves out gradually since. Fearing that the West could support a Maidan-type uprising against him, and also needing Western investment to spur economic growth in an economy (overly dependent upon an imploding Russian economy) in recession, Lukashenka offered to mediate between Russia and the West in the ongoing confrontation over Ukraine. Putin’s annexation of Crimea and stoking of conflict in eastern Ukraine also brought home to Lukashenka the danger that Russia could undertake similar actions in Belarus should it believe its interests there to be threatened. He therefore began a sustained effort to warm ties with the West while maintaining his security ties and strategic alignment with Moscow, whose support he needs in order to maintain his rule.