Belarus | 1 min

Belarus: How To Leave in Order To Stay

Moscow is planning changes in Minsk and a mass privatisation of Belarusian enterprises.

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Mars & Venus Belarus Russia

Rusłan Szoszyn
Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko arrive at the mountain resort of Krasnaya Polyana, Monday, Feb. 22, 2021

Due to the “continuing conflict within the authorities”, Alexander Lukashenko has to dismiss the government and the heads of ministries responsible for police and military until 15 March. By then, the case against Belgazprombank should have been closed. Its former president, Viktar Babaryka (who was not allowed to run in last year’s presidential election), and his associate Maria Kalesnikava should be released. By May, the leader of the democratic opposition, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, and the former minister of culture and long-term diplomat, Pavel Latushka, ought to have returned to Belarus.

Lukashenko would then appoint a new prime minister who will replace him, like Vladimir Putin once replaced Boris Yeltsin in Russia. Simultaneously, Kremlin corporations would begin the massive privatisation of leading Belarusian state enterprises.

Nezygar, a popular Russian channel on Telegram, close to Putin’s entourage and the Russian Ministry of Defence, is predicting such a scenario for Belarus.

The opposition is counting on street protests

Allegedly, the “transition of power” in Belarus was discussed on Monday, at a meeting between Alexander Lukashenko and Vladimir Putin in Sochi. The two politicians went skiing and then talked for more than 6 hours. The next day, they even called each other. However, there are no official announcements regarding the outcome of these conversations.

“This is where the speculation has come from, as there is no transparency and no access to facts. We do not know what they talked about, but I do not believe that Lukashenko would accept stepping back to a second or third tier position in Belarus. He won’t agree to it and he won’t leave on his own”, Franak Viacorka, Tikhanouska’s adviser on international affairs, tells Rzeczpospolita. “We are betting on the international isolation of the regime, a split in the elite, and a situation in the country that will leave the regime with no choice but to step down under the pressure of the street protests and the economic sanctions”, he added.

Selling the country

The threat of mass protests breaking out again in ‘brotherly Belarus’ in the spring is not particularly appealing to the authorities in Moscow. Especially as not so long ago, Russia had to suppress its own protests.

“Russia would like to see the crisis in Belarus resolved as soon as possible, as in the autumn, Russia will have its own parliamentary elections”, Andrei Suzdaltsev, a political scientist from the Moscow School of Economics, tells Rzeczpospolita. “Lukashenko left Sochi with nothing because Russia is waiting for concrete steps, preferably before autumn. If in the spring Belarusians take to the streets again, the situation will escalate and could cause conflict between Russia and the West. Lukashenko is multiplying Moscow’s problems”, he explains.

The head of Moscow’s Centre for Political Information, Alexei Mukhin, who collaborates with the Kremlin, is convinced that the Belarusian leader, in office since 1994, wants to rule at least until the end of his current five-year term. But, like many in the Russian media, he is predicting massive privatisation.

“Russia is focussed on the integration of the Union State, and in the near future, Russian corporations will begin buying Belarusian companies. This was one of the roadmaps discussed in Sochi”, Mukhin tells Rzeczpospolita.

According to the rumours, the country’s largest bus and truck producer MAZ, the Naftan company (managing Novopolotsk oil refinery), and even the state railway could be sold. “Russia emphasises the integration of the services and the army. In turn, privatisation of Belarusian enterprises would make the country completely dependent on its eastern neighbour. Then, they would quickly oust Lukashenko from power”, Paweł Usov, a well-known Belarusian political scientist, told Rzeczpospolita.

A trusted successor

Even before the last elections, Belarusian media repeatedly speculated that Uladzimir Makey, the head of the diplomacy, might become the dictator’s possible successor. Apparently, during Soviet times, he was a GRU colonel [editor’s note: Soviet military intelligence] and proved that he can be a truly ‘pro-Western’ figure of the regime in Minsk.

“We are not Moscow’s proteges”, Makey told Rzeczpospolita in 2016. “We are ready for dialogue with the EU, including within sensitive areas, such as the development of democracy and human rights”, he claimed. But he recently proved that, if necessary, he can be a fervent Russian sympathiser. He proposed deleting the sentence referring to “Belarusians’ desire for neutrality” from the Belarusian constitution; all in favour of deepening the integration of states. “Russia will always be our strategic partner”, he said during the recent All-Belarusian People’s Assembly.

Some even speculated that his recent extensive interview to the Russian agency RBK – something that in recent years was impossible for Belarusian politicians from Lukashenko’s environment – was not a coincidence. Lukashenko has always had a monopoly on contacts with the Russian media.

“In fact, Makey was never a pro-Western politician, he was following orders. He is a very trusted person of Lukashenko and would undoubtedly also be comfortable with Russia if necessary”, Usov says.

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