Are The Protests in Belarus Opening The Country Up To russian Influence?

Belarus, a former Soviet State, governed by President Alexander Lukashenko since 1994, has previously been referred to as ‘Europe’s last dictatorship’ by western journalists. Belarus and Russia, having both been former Soviet States share similar cultures and languages, although in previous years, Lukashenko of Belarus has progressively leaned towards and favoured relationships with the US and Europe.

On the 9th August on a Sunday, it was announced that Lukashenko won the election. The legitimacy of this election was questionable as Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OECD), which monitored elections, upholding democratic values, hasn’t recognised an election in Belarus since 1995. The OECD was not involved in the 2020 election. 

The leader of the opposition is Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, entered the race in May, due to the barring of other prominent leaders from running (including her husband). It is thought that she fled to Lithuania to be with her children, again, it is thought that she was offered an ultimatum by Lukashenko, none known to be the exact truth. Some of her team remain hostage, including her campaign manager. 

The opposition rejected the official result of Lukashenko ‘winning’ 80% of the votes and this caused people to take to the streets to demonstrate. The protests are demanding proper process and fair elections. The protests have escalated in violence, with 2 protestor deaths and 6,000 arrests as of 12th of August this year. Tikhanovskaya told her supporters not to join the protests and “put their lives at risk”. 

The protests and political unrest in Belarus mean that Lukashenko will have a tenuous grasp on power. Putin has seen an opportunity to strengthen Moscow’s relationship with Minsk, as Lukashenko will need support to maintain power. Putin is relentlessly pushing for these close ties but Lukashenko hasn’t acquiesced as he thinks Russia want to take control of Belarus. 

Belarus is well-placed strategically for Russia, as it is in the centre of Eastern Europe, and could be a barrier between Russia and NATO. Currently, Belarus is an important transit country for Russia exporting their oil to the west. Russia is hoping to have close military ties with Belarus, to defend the Eastern bloc that both countries belong to. 

Lukashenko has yet to respond to Putin’s message to him and it is uncertain how he will respond due to the tumultuous relationship that the two countries share. Putin is not the only one watching these events unfold, many of Putin’s opposition assume that a similar situation will happen in Russia when the next election occurs in 2024.

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