Two foremost Belarusian opposition-minded political analysts, Yury Drakakhrust of Radio Liberty and Tut.by along with Alexander Klaskovsky of Belarus’s non-state press agency BelaPan, recently published thought-provoking articles about the potential impact on Belarus of the November 13 “black Friday” terrorist attack (BFTA) in Paris. Both publications promise to be influential in guiding the national discourse on that issue.
In his article, Drakakhrust underscores that the BFTA followed what increasingly looks like a terrorist attack on a Russian plane departing from Egypt. And this pair of attacks testifies to the fact that the perpetrators have apparently conflated both targets—Russia and France—into a united enemy. And however paradoxical it may seem, the same view can be expected to prevail on the side of the victims. In other words, in both Russia and the collective West, the conflict in Ukraine is likely to be downgraded: it is going to be looked at as a family quarrel compared with a clash of the entire human civilization with the “barbarians.” Even before the BFTA, Europe was leaning toward softening sanctions against Russia and toward establishing some kind of stability in Donbas at the expense of Ukraine. Now this trend is going to be tremendously reinforced, if only because Europe is not robust enough to deal with two wars at the same time. Europe is going to make peace with Russia, believes Drakakhrust. As Winston Churchill quipped after Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, “if Hitler invaded hell I would make at least a favorable reference to the Devil in the House of Commons.”
Inside Belarus, the BFTA will definitely reinforce the already popular opinion that the world is full of danger, Drakakhrust argues; hence, enhancing security is more important to the Belarusian population than anything else. Moreover, Minsk may soon organize yet another Europe-Russia-Ukraine summit dedicated to freezing the Ukrainian conflict at which a rapprochement between Europe and Russia may be formalized. After all, the Minsk Two ceasefire agreement currently in place will expire in 1.5 months and has to be replaced by something else. And if this chain of events materializes, it will probably be followed by a further strengthening of ties between Belarus and the collective West, he writes (Tut.by, November 15).
Meanwhile, according to Klaskovsky, while the Belarusian “regime” is in many ways alien to Western values, when it comes to international terrorism, Minsk and the West are “in the same boat.” Moreover, in light of the Paris attacks, the well-worn thesis about Belarus as an island of stability received another boost—at the very least, domestically. Indeed, even before the BFTA, Belarusians emphasized peace and stability as their primary considerations while deciding who to vote for in the October 11, 2015, presidential elections. When probed in September by the Independent Institute for Socio-Economic and Political Studies (IISEPS), a pollster funded by the West, 47.6 percent of Belarusians identified with this opinion. In contrast, democracy and the independence of Belarus were the priorities for just 15 percent (as few Western opinion makers acknowledge), improvement in healthcare for 15.5 percent, and price hikes for 30 percent. Even a general standard of living was a foremost concern for only 37 percent of Belarusian voters—that is, 10 percent lower than concerns over peace and stability. The way sarcastic commentators explained this was that “the TV has defeated the refrigerator.” Today, there are even more horrors on TV, so this collective point of view will likely be reinforced among Belarusians (Naviny.by, November 14).
Klaskovsky further argues in his piece that the West itself is not going to pressure Minsk anymore (if only for the time being) on issues of democracy. This policy shift was obviously prompted by the crisis in Ukraine; but now Minsk’s role as “a donor of regional and international security” is going to be in demand even more. Moreover, according to the military analyst Alexander Alesin, whom Klaskovsky quotes in his article, the issue of the Russian airbase in Belarus will lose out in importance as Russia’s confrontation with the West is relegated to the back burner. Also, having successfully launched cruise missiles from the Caspian Sea against targets in Syria, Russia assured itself that it could possibly reach ballistic missile defense (BMD) installations in Europe in the same way. Thus, Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s pronouncement that “we do not need the airbase” can be solidified and exchanged for dividends from the West. As a matter of fact, negotiations are currently under way in Minsk with representatives from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) about the conditions of a $3 billion loan for Belarus. The consolidated voice of the Euro-Atlantic community is likely to support this loan as both Europe and the United States are interested in Minsk distancing itself from Moscow to the extent possible. Also, however paradoxical this may seem, it is not in Moscow’s interest to put pressure on Minsk at this point in time since the many different confrontations Russia is currently involved in intensify Moscow’s need to solidify its existing alliances (Naviny.by, November 14).
Lukashenka pointedly declared this week (November 16) that he is “ready for a serious talk about Belarusian-Russian relations” during his upcoming visit to Moscow, his first international visit after winning a fifth term as president of Belarus. He added that he wants to “remove certain apprehensions,” thus implying that on the one hand bilateral Belarusian-Russian relations are problematic and, on the other, that the problems are not too difficult to overcome (Tut.by, November 16).
Such an approach is, interestingly enough, in line with the opinion of some prominent Western analysts regarding the prospects for Belarusian-Western relations. Thus, according to Glen Howard, the president of The Jamestown Foundation, Belarus can be an ally of the West by retaining and reinforcing its neutral status—like Yugoslavia did under President Josip Broz Tito. Howard expressed this opinion on November 13, while participating in the Minsk-based international conference “A fresh look at the frozen conflicts in the post-Soviet space.” When the Russian expert Sergei Markedonov replied that Howard just “discovered Belarus for himself,” whereas in fact Belarus has never been a Russian puppet, Howard insisted that it was relatively recently that Lukashenka changed his position to a more independent one (Tut.by, November 12).
One way or another, it seems obvious that hawkish and unbending democracy promotion is becoming a thing of the past, and Belarus is gaining international recognition even more rapidly than had long been predicted.