Democratist

Democracy. Russia. CIS.

Belarus: The Geopolitics of the “Black Revolution.”

Posted by democratist on November 23, 2010

23rd November 2010.

More evidence is beginning to emerge of the Russian government’s all-but-openly-declared plotting to oust President Alexandr Lukashenko during, or shortly after the Belarussian Presidential elections due on 19th December.

In this regard, last Sunday Russia’s Channel One (also widely available in Belarus) ran a propaganda piece relating to the pre-election situation.

This declared that Lukashenko was “weaker today than he has ever been before” due to Belarus’ economic and other problems, and predicted that the country will likely face a currency crisis early in the new year.

More significantly, the programme (Vremya) also attempted to pull off what we can only describe as an impressive attempt at doublethink, as it tried to paint the EU as having been supportive of Lukashenko (employing a recent ill-judged quote by Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite) while Russia was recast as a stalwart defender of the Belarussian opposition (or at least of two pro-Russian opposition presidential candidates; Andrei Sannikov and Stanislau Shushkevich).

Thus, Sannikov was quoted as saying (in a line presumably scripted in Moscow),“We should proceed from the real situation. If Europe speaks about supporting Lukashenko, while Russia speaks about the opposition, we should take this into account and welcome it.”

And Shushkevich was permitted to chip-in with a spot of rabble-rousing anti-Lukashenko xenophobia; “You know, I have only Belarusians among my ancestors. [Lukashenko's] nationality is unknown: maybe he is of Roma origin, or of Jewish origin. In any case, he is definitely not a Belarusian.”

So, a fascinating scenario is emerging: The Belarusian electoral administration is massively dominated at all levels by Lukashenko loyalists. It is no exaggeration to say that the Territorial Electoral Commissions (TECs), which oversee the key organizational aspects of the process have been specifically designed to allow them to co-operate with local authorities (since they are largely composed of the same people) to allow them to use their influence in universities, hospitals and Belarus’ many state-enterprises (who employ 51.2% of the workforce) so as to both “get out the vote”, and pressure individuals to vote for the incumbent.

As long as this system remains functioning, there is no chance of any opposition figure being declared winner of the Presidential elections. Even if it does break down to some degree, the most popular Belarusian opposition politician (according to the independent IISEPS research centre) Russian-backed Vladimir Neklyaev, currently has only 16.8% of support in the opinion polls, while Lukashenko remains the most popular with support from about 48% of the electorate, regardless of recent external media pressure. Additionally, Sannikov himself is currently polling about 8.6%, with Romanchuk’s taking about 6.1% and Mikhalevich’s on 6.4%.

Thus, the most likely outcome is still a Lukashenko victory in the first round. While a second round run-off remains a possibility, we suspect that the key move (if it comes) will have to be during the days immediately after the first round poll, presumably in the shape of a coup dressed-up as some kind of popular revolution (a “Black” revolution), with one of the opposition candidates as a figurehead.

For the most part, the West, which (as the history of much of the last two decades has demonstrated) has limited political or economic  influence in Belarus, will be forced to watch from the sidelines as the drama unfolds; their main strategy (apart from calling for a transparent vote) is likely to be to act as quickly as possible to build up an enhanced relationship with the most likely future “candidates” (although these may be somewhat reluctant to play along, because they know Russia remains the only serious player).

If they do decide to go ahead with such a scheme, the Russians will be gambling that the US and EU are unwilling to risk the recent political and strategic advantages they have secured from the “reset,” to a lengthy spat over a coup in a country over which they have never had any significant control.

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