Staunton, VA, February 21, 2017 – Because the money is running out and because Russia can no longer make up the difference, Alyaksandr Lukashenka faces a situation he neither expected nor knows how to respond to, one in which not the nationalists but his own electorate has turned against him, Vitaly Portnikov says.
What the Minsk dictator will do next is “unknown,” the Ukrainian commentator says, adding the critical observation that everyone should be watching what happens in Lukashenka’s country not only for its own sake but because of what it says about what may happen in Vladimir Putin’s Russia.
“In Russia,” as in Belarus, “the government’s resources are also approaching exhaustion – and social protests are not far distant,” Portnikov says. And thus, “Putin also will have to react to protests from his own electorate and not in Moscow” but in the Russian Federation’s far-flung regions and republics.
For Putin, he argues, “this will be much more terrible” and terrifying that protests however large in Moscow’s public squares.
Thus, “if Lukashenka collapses, Putin will collapse as well because Russia is similar to Belarus from the political point of view and not the reverse. Moscow learned from Minsk nostalgia for things Soviet and for authoritarianism” as such. Indeed, for Putin, Belarus like Tatarstan and Chechnya earlier is a testing ground.
Consequently, “if Lukashenka is able to find a model for survival in poverty – from repression to playing with the opposition,” Portnikov suggests, “Putin almost certainly will use this approach to save himself.” That makes the protests across Belarus far more important than many now see them.