I have already said that the elections held in our neighboring state were unfair and that we should support the Belarusian people. Our own progress regarding a president elected by the people is a different story. What concerns Belarus, all we can do is provide moral support, but what exactly is the current situation there and how will it unfold?
Some time has passed since Lukashenko met with Putin and I must admit that no significant changes have taken place. Yes, at some point law enforcement officials became more aggressive towards the protesters but they have been aggressive already since the beginning.
Now, however, we can see certain changes in Lukashenko’s tactics. The most notable is the video announcement made by First Deputy Minister of Interior Gennady Kazakevich in which he stated that the protests against Lukashenko have died down in Belarusian regions and are moving to Minsk and becoming increasingly radical. He also said that the protesters are throwing rocks and bottles, setting up barricades and burning tires. “We are facing not only aggression, but also mercenary groups, radicals, anarchists and football fanatics whose aim is to repeat the events of early August.”1
The full video of Kazakevich can be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=snEieUhSTfU&feature=emb_title
There is no doubt that Kazakevich made the statement with Lukashenko’s blessing. This is Lukashenko announcing loudly and clearly that he is ready to use firearms against his own people.
This creates the impression that Lukashenko is sending the final warning to the protesters and that he is not about to give in. But how do we then explain Lukashenko’s decision to meet with the detained leaders of the opposition in a KGB jail? The meeting lasted for four hours – sure, such a meeting is good for Lukashenko’s PR, but what exactly did they discuss for such a long time? Four hours is enough to start talking to your worst enemies.
All we know is that the media cited Lukashenko saying “You can’t write the constitution on the streets,” adding that Lukashenko agreed to the meeting to hear everyone’s opinion, but the participants of the meeting have collectively decided not to reveal what was discussed.2
Lukashenko made a seeming gesture of goodwill by releasing two opposition-linked entrepreneurs from detainment and placing them on house arrest. Both businessmen were present during the meeting on Saturday between Lukashenko and his critics who were jailed before and after the presidential election.3
From this point of view, it almost seems that Lukashenko is preparing his line of retreat. But not everything is as it seems.
Lukashenko met with the jailed members of the opposition on 10 October, while Kazakevich made his announcement about using firearms on 12 October, but what happened on 13 October is something I initially refused to believe.
On Monday, pensioners took to the street to protest against the brutal behavior of law enforcement officers during the Sunday protests. Tear gas was used against the elderly protesters and later explosions could be heard, as was reported by Radio Svoboda. The protesters threw flowers on law enforcement vehicles.4
It’s one thing when law enforcement employs excessive force against younger protesters, but against pensioners?! And they used not only force, but also tear gas – it’s utterly unthinkable.
What can we conclude from all this? It is most likely that Lukashenko is only creating the illusion of trying to resolve the situation in Belarus in a peaceful manner, when in reality he is preparing for escalating the violence. His announcement that he is ready to hand over some of his power to the government and other institutions5 is only a disguise for preparing for the final attack, during which Lukashenko will argue that he had no other choice and that he did everything he can to resolve the situation.
I will add that his “guardian angel” Putin is also switching his approach to dealing with the protesters in Khabarovsk and is now employing more brutal methods. That is, on 10 October several dozen people were detained, and this is the first time during the three-month protests when law enforcement officers violently disperse the people protesting against the arrest of governor Sergey Furgal. It is reported that the detainments began when some of the protesters began setting up tents near the administrative building of Khabarovsk Kray, announcing that they intend to spend the night there. The police asked them to remove the tents, after which OMON personnel appeared from the administrative building and began arresting and dispersing the protesters.6
It looks like the last dictators – sensing that their power is slowly and inevitably slipping out of their hands – will begin taking radical steps. It also seems that Putin isn’t as bothered by Lukashenko’s problems than he is by his own.
And the answer my own question – what is behind Lukashenko’s two faces – is actually very simple: Lukashenko acts as the good uncle so he can later justify his brutal deeds.