West’s Failure To Focus On Belarus Protests Creating Dangerous Situation – OpEd

Anti-Lukashenka protests in Belarus are continuing, drawing energy from popular anger outside of Minsk. But because they are attracting so little international attention, there is a great risk that the Belarusian leader will try to re-impose order by a massive crackdown or that Moscow will hijack the protests and install its own man in Minsk.

To be successful, a color revolution requires that the West pay close attention to what is going on both to encourage those who are prepared to march and to discourage those who might be thinking about a crackdown (Lukashenka) or a hijack (Moscow) because of the costs one or the other or both would pay internationally.

What is happening now, as US-based Russian journalist Kseniya Kirillova points out, is that the situation in Belarus is entering a danger zone. People are still protesting, but after a small amount of international attention two weeks ago and a week ago, there is almost none now (svoboda.org/a/28339963.html).

The Belarusian opposition parties welcomed the upsurge in popular activism as an indication that the Belarusian people are “awakening,” Kirillova says; and they have structured a rolling set of protests in cities across the country culminating with demonstrations in all major cities now planned for March 25-26.

Minsk analysts say, Kirillova continues, that Lukashenka was caught off guard by the protests. He certainly didn’t expect them, and his initial reaction was to withdraw from the scene for a visit to Sochi, Russia. But now, he has a schedule and can see that the protests are going to grow, potentially threatening his power.

Analysts and political leaders in Moscow are equally aware of this schedule, and they may be even more driven to exploit it either to bring Lukashenka to heel and insist that he impose order on the situation or imply that he will be replaced by someone more to Moscow’s liking who will do so.

The wildcard in all this is the Belarusian people. Having gained confidence and become increasingly political as a result of the demonstrations, they may now be more radicalized than the leaders of the opposition parties. And thus it is quite possible that an attempt by Lukashenka or Moscow to suppress them will backfire, leading to an explosion with an uncertain outcome.

Indeed, there is only one apparent certainty: the issues the Belarusian protests raise are coming to a head; and they are likely to result in something dramatic before the end of this month — regardless of whether the West is paying attention or not, with untold consequences for Belarus, Ukraine, Poland and other countries as well.

On this weekend’s demonstrations, see charter97.org/ru/news/2017/3/5/242804/ and belsat.eu/ru/news/v-voskresene-v-breste-projdet-aktsiya-protiv-dekreta-o-tuneyadtsah-belsat-eu-budet-vesti-strim/.


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Paul Goble

Paul Goble

Paul Goble is a longtime specialist on ethnic and religious questions in Eurasia. Most recently, he was director of research and publications at the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy. Earlier, he served as vice dean for the social sciences and humanities at Audentes University in Tallinn and a senior research associate at the EuroCollege of the University of Tartu in Estonia. He has served in various capacities in the U.S. State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency and the International Broadcasting Bureau as well as at the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Mr. Goble maintains the Window on Eurasia blog and can be contacted directly at [email protected] .

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