Kremlin's Plan of Taming Lukashenka Goes Ahead

After June’s gas dispute and Russian enforcing Belarus to join the Customs Union, political tension between Minsk and Moscow persists, taking ever new turns and twists. Belarusian leadership retaliated for the film about Lukashenka shown on Gazprom-controlled NTV by meetings with conspicuous nemesis of Russia – president Mikheil Saakashvili of Georgia.

Furthemore, Saakashvili was invited to explain evil nature of Kremlin on Belarusian state TV. Reaction of Russian side was immediate – the same Moscow’s channel showed second film about Lukashenka. At least the first film really reached general audience – something that Polish-based TV channel Belsat did not manage to do since three years despite all efforts and hopes of Lukashenka’s opponents. Ordinary people discussed the NTV film, though quite few watched it by themselves.

It was a hard blow for Belarusian president, because it made clear how susceptible his people are to Russian propaganda. After all, it cannot be seriously deemed as Russian concern for lack of human rights or democracy in Belarus. Of course, there are these problems under Lukashenka’s reign yet Moscow channel, critisizing Minsk for human rights violations and disappearances while silently omitting much grosser abuses in the own land, resembles not so old times of USSR lashing out at USA for American racism.

Weak national identity and nonexistent civic and political consciousness of Belarusians aggravate the situation, while assisting Russian attempts to tame if not to oust Lukashenka altogether. A bulk part of Belarusian opposition facing the problems with Western support are inclined to turn to old Eastern comrades and this week proved that Moscow can count not only on popular reaction to anti-Lukashenka propaganda but also look toward collaboration of many politicians left for years without access to power in the country.

Thus, following the Russian film which mentioned disappearances of four persons in 1999-2000, the issue of disappearances was raised again with explicit references to Russia at Friday’s press conference by “European Belarus” Coordinator Andrei Sannikau, leader of Social Democratic Party Stanislau Shushkevich, leader of United Civic Party Anatol Lyabedzka, leader of the former Communist party Siarhiej Kaliakin, deputy chairman of Belarusian People’s Front (BNF) Ryhor Kastusiou and head of the Minsk City Organization Of BNF Viktar Ivashkievich – the whole range of political opposition for the first time.

Shushkevich – sometimes considered to be a moderate National Democrat – said that spin doctors of Belarusian regime are trying to begin in Belarus an anti-Russian PR campaign. Yet, Russia cannot be our enemy, we are neighbours. We are told that Lukashenka is a guarantor of our independence, but a person which does not know Belarusianhood, language and history cannot be such guarantor. Such leader cannot bring us to independence.

Such statements one time were monopoly of the Belarusian president, but now the situation seemed to be contrary – Lukashenka is struggling with Kremlin and opposition seeks Russian friendship! They have to hurry, since Moscow possibly have already made up its strategy and put its agents in action.

New public campaign “Tell the Truth” – widely believed to have at least some deals with Russia and favorable stature toward it – demonstrates a high professional level in both installing control over oppositional political and NGOs’ structures and buying up most active oppositional organizations. Actually, there are almost no critical materials about that campaign in non-governmental media anymore, while all steps of Lukashenka in confrontation with Russia are accompanied by new waves of attacks on him in both press outlets and public statements of oppositional politicians.

A leader of the campaign – the famous poet Uladzimir Niakliajeu – declared last week his intent to participate in presidential elections. Apart from Russian support supposed by many, the campaign has a lot of funding, and at the same time it is clear that this time Western gave opposition no major resources. The campaign first denied Russian origin of its money. However, one time Niakliajeu got tired of questions about money and rhetorically asked,

“Why it is bad to say the truth for Russian money?”

The explicitly pro-Kremlin position of campaign’s representatives during the gas conflict with Russia has only increased suspicions of campagn’s Russian link. Very illustrative was Niakliajeu’s statement on 600th anniversary of the Grunwald Battle, as he proclaimed that

“The Battle of Grunwald is a genuine symbol of cultural and political unity of Belarus, Poland, Lithuania and Russia”.

One can hardly find anything Russian to this battle except for later pan-Slavic and anti-German speculations of Russian imperial ideologues.

There is another bad news for Lukashenka. The campaign “Tell the Truth” regardless of its Russian connections, enjoys good relations with Western politicians. Niakliajeu began his international tour de force by visiting Canada but ended with meeting the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton!

It means that Belarusian regime cannot count on West while facing the most extensive and intensive Russian intrusion in its history. And Minsk is showing first signs of weakness – always obedient to Lukashenka Belarusian judges this week did not even dare to close a facade organization of the campaign “Tell the Truth”.

SB

Siarhei Bohdan is an associate analyst at the Ostrogorski Centre.

Comments

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