By Paul Goble
Poland and its Western allies face serious problems in dealing with Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s repressive regime, but none is more difficult than addressing the conundrum reflected in the observation of some that “better Lukashenka in Minsk than Russian tanks in Brest.”
That conclusion is suggested by Serhii Pelesa, the host of a program on the Belsat news agency directed at Belarus but based in Poland; and it means that the West can only push Lukashenka so far on human rights lest it risk a Russian intervention that would lead to an even worse situation (belsat.eu/ru/news/luchshe-lukashenko-v-minske-chem-russkie-tanki-v-breste/).
That leaves many in the West and perhaps even more in Belarus unhappy given the changes they would like to see in Belarus, but the possibility this notion captures underscores that there is something worse for Belarus and the West than the current situation – and that there are those in Moscow who would like to see it happen.
But Pelesa and the Polish experts he has spoken with agree on something else: this situation is also unsatisfactory for Lukashenka who would like to get more from the West than it is prepared to give but who can’t afford to take the kind of actions that would allow that to happen.
Any significant liberalization, however welcome in Belarus and the West, would be viewed with alarm in Moscow and might lead Vladimir Putin to invade and attempt to absorb Belarus much as he seized Ukraine’s Crimea in 2014, an action the West has not yet shown any willingness to put the kind of obstacles in his path that might forestall that from happening.
And so the game is likely to go on in much the same way as it has in recent months, with Lukashenka remaining repressive at home and navigating between supporting Moscow on some things and the West on others, hoping that there will be a breakthrough that will his loss of power and prevent Putin’s tanks from moving westward.