Belarusan President Alyaksandr Lukashenka is impregnably positioned for reelection to a five-year term in the upcoming electoral parody. He has the choice of staging either a first-round landslide on September 9 or, for extra window dressing, a runoff victory two weeks later. Irrespective of the actual returns, however, Lukashenka will be the formal and Moscow the real winner in this exercise.
A fraudulent reelection of Lukashenka will only be recognized by Moscow, its willing or unwilling CIS allies, and a gallery of rogue and communist-ruled states. His new term of office will be marked by political illegitimacy, which was not the case in his first five-year term. Moreover, Lukashenka will have owed his reelection partly to Russia’s direct and indirect economic subsidies and political support.
With a weakened and more dependent Lukashenka in office, Moscow will be well placed to increase its control of Belarus for the long term. This trend is already in evidence on four fronts. The first is that of governing personnel, including Russian carpetbaggers and career officers of Russia’s security services, whom Lukashenka promoted in Minsk when embarking on the election year. The second track is the military-strategic, which is in practice the fast track of the Russia-Belarus Union State. The third direction is the economic, where Moscow is enmeshing Minsk in a dependency relationship, planned to deepen during Lukashenka’s next term of office. The fourth is the political, with Lukashenka and the Kremlin now preparing a Constitutional Act of the Union State and the direct election of a joint parliament, both to be consummated following Lukashenka’s reelection.
In several recent interviews and statements, an agitated Lukashenka has listed some of his “services” to Russia in an implicit plea for post-election backing. He cited the Belarusan “shield,” protecting the approaches to Russia in the air and on land; rent-free hosting of Russian radars; guaranteed and cheap transit of Russia’s trade with Western Europe; and predominant status of the Russian language in Belarus.
In his seven years thus far as president, Lukashenka has staunchly resisted the penetration of Belarus by Russian private capital. His top priorities all along were the maintenance of state ownership and of his undivided control of the economy of Belarus. At this point, however, Lukashenka’s resistance appears to unravel. He and other Belarusan officials are currently engaged for the first time in serious discussions with Russian business about privatization of Belarusan state enterprises. Lukoil, Itera, Russian Aluminum and other Russian companies are eyeing Belarusan energy, automotive and chemical plants.
The stake in this election, then, is not the presidential office itself, but the effective control over Belarus in the post-election period. By supporting the anti-democratic incumbent president, Moscow seems set to tighten its own hold over this strategic salient into Central Europe. From Moscow’s viewpoint, this will be the most convenient form of control: maximum leverage with minimal direct responsibility for the internal political situation in Belarus. (Survey based on recent Russian and Belarusan media reporting; see also the Monitor, May 4, 11, June 6, July 24, August 31).
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