Lukashenka Advocates Foreign Military Intervention Against Revolutions

CSTO summit

While Belarusian authorities bitterly criticize NATO intervention in Libya, they actively advocate the idea of foreign troops helping post-Soviet dictators remain in power. 

Since July Belarusian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka has sought to strengthen the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). He proposed to turn the CSTO into an anti-revolution alliance.  Although yesterday Russian daily Izvestia quoted an anonymous Kremlin official saying that the Belarusian leader “vulgarized” the idea and there was no agreement on using the CSTO to prevent coup-d'etats,* changes in the organization can seriously reconfigure post-Soviet politics.

Unholy Alliance

Belarus joined the 1992 treaty which established the CSTO only after heated debates in parliament – then an important institution in Belarus.  The speaker of the Belarusian parliament publicly protested against joining the organization but had to sign the CSTO treaty in 1993 following the majority's decision. Belarus was the last country to sign the treaty. Other member of the CSTO include Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Russia clearly dominates in the organization.

Today Lukashenka has many reasons to promote the CSTO and turn it into an anti-revolution alliance. His own position is weakening both domestically and internationally day by day. Fearing revolution, he is tryingto obtain guarantees of his protection from the CSTO and even foreign military intervention to stop possible civil unrest. In addition, Lukashenka currently acts as chairman of the CSTO, and apparently likes the idea of gaining political weight by making the organization more powerful. 

Changes proposed by Belarus for the CSTO December summit include proposals to extend the mandate of the CSTO Collective Immediate Reaction Forces beyond defense against foreign military aggression. As Lukashenka explained: “currently nobody will attack us in a frontal, military way, but many are eager to do an unconstitutional coup-d'etat. We shall defend the integrity and independence of our countries...”

The Russian media, quoting a source in the Russian foreign ministry, revealed yet another proposed provision to the CSTO decision-making procedures. According to Commersant the changes purport "to renounce the consensus principle and noone except for Uzbekistan is against it.”* Until 2005 Uzbekistan tried to stay away from post-Soviet integration projects but the Andijan massacre made Karimov seek Russian help against a possible revolution in his country.

Minsk and Moscow have already agreed to act together against Uzbek president Islam Karimov. “If anyone does not want to abide by the Statute functions, then he shall quit it [the CSTO] and should not hamper the others,” said the Belarusian strongman. Clearly the message was for Karimov – neither man has hidden his antipathy towards the other in the past.

Playing for Russia?

Entering the “military political bloc”, Lukashenka once again disregarded the Belarusian Constitution which declares the neutrality of Belarus. Such a policy also contradicts the principles of the Non-Alignment Movement that Belarus has been a member of since 1998.

The Belarusian government is now trying to include in the CSTO constituent documents a provision that “military bases of foreign countries shall be established in member countries upon agreement with the Council of the Heads of States of the CSTO”. This provision is not particularly important for Belarus. Most likely it acts as a proxy for the Kremlin, which constantly fears any new Western military presence in its former empire.

As Russian daily Kommersant put it, the latest CIS summit in Dushanbe demonstrated that for Russia the CIS was no longer the most important organization, and its focus has shifted to the Customs Union (currently with Belarus and Kazakhstan) and CSTO, both of them to be seriously reorganized.* Kommersant's sources have also confirmed that the transformation in both organizations has not only begun but that they already coordinate implementation of concrete decisions.

Speaking at the Dushanbe CIS summit, Medvedev agreed that often accusations of abstractness and weak implementation of commitments taken in the CIS framework are fair. By contrast he referred to the Customs Union and the CSTO as more successful integration projects. Kommersant warns that "reforms launched in these two organizations should make the CIS nations think about their foreign policy choice.*

Ukraine is still trying to combine European and post-Soviet integration projects. Lukashenka has already made the choice for Belarus, exchanging its sovereignty for his chance to stay in power a bit longer. Winston Churchill once said that tyrants never leave behind a decent country. In addition to immense economic and social troubles, heavy debts, undermined rule of law and other ills, the post-Lukashenka Belarus will also have to deal with the liability of dubious international commitments.

Unfortunately, the Belarusian opposition and independent media failed to explain to the nation the seriousness of the CSTO-related developments. Preoccupied with economic survival, Belarusians did not even notice that the government is about to engage in a pact which will significantly limit Belarusian sovereignty. It may also expose Belarus to military confrontation with other post-Soviet countries.

Siarhei Bohdan is an associate analyst at the Ostrogorski Centre.

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