Is Lukashenka a Threat to International Security?
The Belarusian Foreign Ministry was quick to state that it was “unaware” of Belarusian mercenaries fighting in Libya on the side of Muammar Gaddafi. No matter what the ministry does not know or says it does not know, Belarus has been notorious for its ties with totalitarian regimes around the world. This makes Belarus a part of the worldwide network of cooperation and mutual support between undemocratic regimes.
The family jet of Gaddafi has been reported flying these days to Minsk and back,* with unknown aims – some Belarusian bloggers suspect that Lukashenka may have had stored part of his wealth in Libya and was now returning it to a safer place home. Worse than that, Belarus is suspected of supplying Gaddafi with arms.*
Lukashenka’s ties with Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez are well known: joint oil production projects, oil transportation from Venezuela to Belarus, multiple Belarusian construction projects in Venezuela. Besides that, Belarus had supplied Chavez with arms. More then that – there were reports of Chavez and Lukashenka supplying weapons to the Colombian left-wing terrorist group FARC.*
Belarus could not resist establishing partnership with Iran. It started with a joint-venture producing Iranian Samand automobiles in Belarus which turned to be a failure.* The Belarusian-Iranian oil projects seem more serious.*
“I am convinced that the constructive Belarus-Iran relationship will be given a further impetus”, said Lukashenka in his congratulation to Ahmadinejad immediately after the disputed 2009 Iranian presidential elections. It was then Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who pathetically called the infamous December 19, 2010 elections in Belarus a “golden page in the honorable history” of the Belarusian people.*
Earlier, the Belarusian regime had apparently issued Belarusian passports for family members of Saddam Hussein.* In 2010, it granted asylum for the exiled dictator of Kyrgyzstan, Kurmanbek Bakiyev.
Belarus seems not to present a direct threat to its neighbours. However, there are indications that the authoritarian regime in Belarus is indirectly responsible for hundreds of people killed in Libya, Cote d’Ivoire, Colombia and other parts of the world because it supplied weapons to fellow pariah states, often in violation of international law.
These days it is clear that the problem of Belarus being an nontransparent and corrupt authoritarian regime has serious implications for international security in the world.
Belarus Should Learn Lessons from Libya
As Muammar Gadaffi deploys aviation and artillery to protect his rule from Lybian citizens, Alexander Lukashenka vowed to use Belarus army to protect his political regime. Although not everything said by Mr Lukashenka should be taken seriously, this statement should not be left unnoticed by the international community.
It requires immediate response and condemnation, particularly in the light of the UN’s allegations that Belarus recently defied an arms embargo by delivering attack helicopters to the president of Ivory Coast who is clinging to the presidency despite losing an election.
Last Saturday, the United Nations Security Council adopted a resolution on Libya holding that the use of army against civilian protesters may amount to crimes against humanity. The Security Council urged to refer the situation in Libya to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court. However, the resolution was short of any concrete measures, such as a a no-fly zone, which could stop violence in Libya.
There are certain lessons which both supporters of Belarus democracy and Belarus authorities should from Libya. Muammar Gadaffi and his family blamed foreign forces and foreign media such as AlJazeera for the popular uprising in Libya. Belarus authorities also blamed Poland and Germany as well as foreign media for organizing protests against the rigged presidential elections. Both Libyan and Belarusian regimes are trying to deal with the powerful role of media in political transition.
Over the first few days of the uprising in Lybia it was nearly impossible to understand what was going on inside the country. Independent journalists were for many years prevented from working in Libya and the use of Internet was severely restricted. Similarly, the analysis of human rights violations in Belarus shows that over the last years Belarus authorities has been putting most of their repressive efforts on journalists (political activists and Protestant Christian communities come second and third). Belarus authorities promised even more restrictions after the December presidential elections.
This suggests that helping media should be a priority for those who want to support democracy in Belarus. Poland-based Belsat which broadcasts in Belarusian is the first important step in this direction. It is unfortunate, however, that after three years of its existence it is still not possible to watch Belsat live on Internet. It appears that because of limited popularly of satellite dishes in Belarus, improving internet broadcasting should be a priority.
Last week Christian Science Monitor suggested that Mr Gadaffi should go to Belarus, which is becoming a safe heaven place for all sorts of dictators. Indeed, after Kurmanbek Bakiev was toppled in Kyrgyzstan, he was given refuge in Belarus. It is alleged that arrangements were underway to give refuge in Belarus to Slobodan Miloshevich and the infamous sons of Saddam Hussein were given Belarusian passports.
Sending Mr Gadaffi to Belarus may sound like an attractive idea to an outsider. However, Belarusians has suffered enough even under their own ruler. Turning the country into a dumping ground for dictators will not do it any good. As the UN Security Council suggested, Mr Gadaffi should be tried for crimes against humanity, not given refuge in Belarus.
It is important that Belarus army and security services also learn the Libyan lessons. Using arms against civilian population makes the regime change irreversible. And those who cross this line will have no place to hide.