Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The Power Vertical

Is Lukashenka In The Kremlin's Crosshairs?

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka (left) with Vladimir Putin -- no longer so friendly?
Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka (left) with Vladimir Putin -- no longer so friendly?
The Kremlin, it appears, has put Alyaksandr Lukashenka on notice.

On July 4, the Gazprom-owned television station NTV broadcast an unflattering documentary about the authoritarian Belarusian leader and erstwhile Moscow ally.

Titled "The Godfather," the film covered the suspicious deaths and disappearances of Bealrusian opposition figures in the late 1990s, suggesting that they were victims of a government-run death squad. It delved into Lukashenka's private life. It reminded viewers of the billions of dollars in support Russia has given to Belarus. And it showed Lukashenka praising Adolf Hitler.

Programs like this are not aired by accident in Russia. And coming on the heels of nasty disputes over gas prices and Belarus joining a customs union with Russia, the broadcast had all the hallmarks of a Kremlin-approved hit job.

Political commentator Sergei Buntman noted on Ekho Moskvy recently that journalists and Belarusian opposition leader have been saying similar things about Lukashenka for over a decade. "Could it be that the people who craft policy have truly seen the light and, against the backdrop of innovation and modernization, realized just what a dreadful dictator Lukashenka is?" Buntman asked rhetorically. "I doubt it."

Instead, what is driving the Kremlin's campaign is the fact that Lukashenka has long been wearing out his welcome in Moscow. He costs too much. He's too high-maintenance.

And as Buntman points out, he is no longer considered a reliable Kremlin ally:

Russian domestic and foreign policy...uses just the one criterion -- loyalty or disloyalty to the Russian Federation. Russian policy has assimilated one uncomplicated law of diplomacy: he may be a son of a bitch, but he's our son of a bitch. If he stops being ours, then he takes a hit.

So what is Russia's end game? In a recent interview with RFE/RL's Russian Service, Leonid Zaika, director of the Minsk-based think tank Strategia, speculates that the latest scuffle between Minsk and Moscow is a prelude to Belarus's presidential election early next year:
Colonel Putin and his colleagues have put together a fine-tuned operation. First, they will discredit Lukashenka with the electorate. Second, they will deprive him and his entourage of money. Then there will be elections and the atmosphere will be changed. There are people among Lukashenka's circle who would like to have the top post. And the most important point will be whether to recognize the election results. If Washington, Brussels, and Moscow all don't recognize the election results, then the situation changes completely. They don't need to do anything else. They don't need any conspiracies. The Kremlin can act legitimately and lawfully.

If Zaika is right, such a scenario would certainly constitute one elegant coup. And depending on who replaced Lukashenka, it could even be welcomed in Brussels and Washington. Another element of the reset in Russia's relations with the West, where even an embarrassing spy scandal can't spoil all the good cheer.

I've always thought Russia would be happy to get rid of the troublesome Lukashenka, but always assumed the Kremlin wouldn't dare make a move unless they were certain they could control the transition and handpick his successor. And until they could, I always assumed they would be content to stick with the devil they know.

Buntman argues that the Kremlin's goals are much more modest at this point -- sending a stern message to Lukashenka that he needs to get in line quickly, or else:

It does work, after all! A bucket of plausible odor comes pouring out of the television screen, and then, the next day, lovely Alyaksandr Ryhoravich [Lukashenka] signs a piece of paper on the customs union. The Belarusian president is being shown that he's in the same boat as Russia, and not just any boat, but a submarine, so he'd better not try to breach its hermetic seal.

A stern warning or a prelude to a coup? Whichever it turns out to be, this should be damn interesting to watch over the coming months.

-- Brian Whitmore

Tags: Russia,Bealrus,Alyaksandr Lukashenka

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Anonymous from: usa
July 10, 2010 05:01
I think Belarus became uncomfortable with Russia around the time of the Georgian war. Or maybe he did some math, and contrasted the weak Russian military with the epic Chinese olympics?

by: Zoltan from: Hungary
July 10, 2010 07:35
Yes, that will be definitely interesting!

I would happily read more about the potential successors and presidential candidates on RFE/RL.

Does Andrei Sannikov or Jaroslav Romanchuk have better chances? Will Alexandr Milinkevich play any significant role in next elections?

Which candidate have the biggest popular support or at least who can secure it in the future?

Would Russia be happy with a win of Sannikov or Romanchuk?

Is there a potential successor close to Lukashenko in the current elite? (If the election should be repeated even a person from the current elite - not just from the opposition - can run for the presidency. Who can be such grey cardinal? Is there any?)

What would be Russia's response if the new Belarusian leadership calls for EU accession? Would Russia tolerate closer integration of Belarus and the EU?

Belarus arrived to a turning point. The next presidential election can be a historical event. I think this is now the most important event to see in Europe in the upcoming month.

by: Zoltan from: Hungary
July 10, 2010 07:46
It is also a question whether Lukashenko will use force against protesters or not. Relying on his words told after the turmoil in Kyrgyzstan he is willing to use force.

The question is will his security forces be so loyal to him to use force against the people?

This is the where Russia can play a significant role. Probably the Kremlin has the necessary informal power to influence security chiefs not to follow the orders of Lukashenko in such a scenario.

Because there will be a point when they realize that disloyalty to Lukashenko is more 'valueable' for them. This point will arrive when they realize that the era of Lukashenko is irreversibly gone.

When will the elite of Luka realize this? That is the question.

by: Ray F. from: Lawrence, KS
July 10, 2010 16:04
URGENT memo to Kremlin leaders! Two can play the kompromat game. Watch for expose' of Putin Inc. in the coming weeks. At a more fundamental level, beware the ides of democracy. Smelling weakness (or lack of Kremlin support), the people of Belarus may take matters into their own hands. This democratic virus could spread to Russia. Remember what happened after Gorby gave Honecker the kiss off?

by: Konstantin from: Los Angeles
July 11, 2010 19:48
I am also victim of Belorussian death squads in Los Angeles.
After I sent chronology of Russian invasion in Georgia to UN
And US leaders and stoped it, than to others, Belorussians
And Osetin Quislings shut my leg with a conterminated pin.

CIA connections were used too in "Bally" Health club in LA.
I was for few days on antibiotics, in "Cedar Sinai" hospital,
But I still have some swelloowing in my leg - till this days.
I hope Russia didn't put in me Hypatit or other deadlical.

Still, my point is this - Belorus have rigt be represented,
Wether by Lukashenko or opponents - might not matter.
As long as above the other concearns, they not bended
To race War - lose land and wealth to Russian breeder.

It was and still is the Varangian-Prussian Russia's goal,
But not like the Civilized countries that inviting foreign best,
Just opposite, as Rashkis learning from such specialists all
Simpler work requires, they killing them, as they did in 1930-th.

They only need other nationals to do their dirty killing job, or slave,
Or be "Guides of Vikings" with broken bodies, as they try till this day
To do to me, even in LA, with telepaths to plagiarize for Russian cave
And for USA German, British and other rich and usefull, corrupting USA.


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The Power Vertical is a blog written especially for Russia wonks and obsessive Kremlin watchers by Brian Whitmore. It offers Brian's personal take on emerging and developing trends in Russian politics, shining a spotlight on the high-stakes power struggles, machinations, and clashing interests that shape Kremlin policy today. Check out The Power Vertical Facebook page or