• Toby Irwin

Belarus: An International Perspective

Since early August, people have took to the streets of Minsk in their thousands to protest the election which saw the re-appointment of incumbent president Alexander Lukashenko. Many believe that the election has been rigged. Belarus represents the last hangover of the Soviet era, the final dictatorship of old Europe. To both the West and Russia though any sign of change can mean significant geopolitical recalibrations.

For the West, the fall of Lukashenko would mean a triumph for liberalism, and in today's Europe such a triumph is surely well needed. It would allow another member state to proceed to integrate into Western values and further secure the Eastern borders of the continent. However, whether both the EU and NATO would allow such facilitation is another question. So too is the possibility that Minsk would not desire to join such institutions. Perhaps it would be a case of all too much, too quick. That all said, the fall of Belarus' dictatorship would surely be a more symbolic victory for the West, a watershed moment that most people thought had concluded in the 1990s. Rigged elections and secret polices are not the norm of modern Europe, though as others have noted, in Belarus votes do not come from the voters. And even with the fiercest opposition campaign in the country's history being carried out Lukashenko remains.

Perhaps more interesting internationally is Russia's stance. Moscow has openly admitted Belarus to be their closest ally, a statement that Belarus has reciprocated. Strategically speaking, Belarus is a significant barrier (alongside Ukraine, though the relations are not comparable) to NATO's Fortress Europe. While it is unlikely that Belarus would ascend to the Western alliance - as the IISS reports that most in the country are well-disposed to Russia, though just are dissatisfied with domestic arrangements - there is still an obvious geopolitical hole missing in the Kremlin's friendly phonebook should Lukashenko be removed. With the Baltic States having joined and become firm members of the alliance in 2004, and talks ongoing with Ukraine, one is tempted to suggest that socialisation and integration to the West could at some stage fraternise Minsk to NATO: naturally undesirable for Moscow who already feel themselves surrounded.

The other concern for Russia is more ingrained with Putin's domestic support. Unsurprisingly there are parallels to be noted between Lukashenko and Putin, from the alleged rigging of elections, secret polices and corruption. Widespread social movements in Belarus have consequences in Russia. One wonders that just as the revolutions of central and eastern Europe brought about the fall of the USSR, so too could change in Belarus instigate mass social unrest in Russia. In a significant recent phone call from the two dictators Lukashenko noted that change in Belarus can easily spread:

"I need to contact Putin, Russia’s president, so I can talk to him because the threat now isn’t to Belarus alone. [...] Defending Belarus today is nothing less than defending our entire space — the Union State and its example to others. If Belarusians can’t hold the line, this wave will roll there [to Russia], too,"

The IISS put it well, when they noted that "Belarus is governed is a security issue – not for the Russian state, but for the Putin regime."






At the time of writing, Toby Irwin is a fourth year student at the University of St Andrews. He is studying International Relations. Areas that interest him the most are UK foreign policy and the defence/aerospace industry.