On Aug. 8, Alexander Lukashenko was reelected president of Belarus for a sixth term, allowing him to serve in office for another five years. The incumbent ran against Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, a Belarusian human rights activist who turned to politics after her husband’s arrest last May. Tsikhanouskaya claims to have received between 60 and 70 percent of the popular vote, as opposed to official results which put her just at ten percent. In light of this, she has set out to organize long-term protests and urged other countries to recognize her as president or push for a re-run.
What has been the reaction of other countries? Silence.
Poland and the Baltic States have imposed sanctions and offered support to the opposition; however, other European countries have done little to acknowledge the dangerous situation in Belarus. This is largely due to Vladimir Putin’s warnings about any foreign interference in Belarus. The Kremlin seeks to keep Lukashenko in office because it ensures that Belarus stays implicitly under heavy Russian intervention. Putin has already granted the Belarusian despot a loan worth 1.5 billion USD as well as Russian law-enforcers if needed.
A month after the elections, protests seem to be far from over. On Sept. 13, a massive crowd of 100,000 Belarusians fighting for democracy marched the streets of Minsk, Belarus’ capital city. The dictator’s attempts to kidnap and exile members of the opposition party, the Coordination Council, seem to have failed embarrassingly.
The protestors took over the streets waving the flag of pre-Soviet Belarus and shouting out slogans calling for Lukashenko to resign. “We are the power here,” was one of many reminders that the people hold the power in Belarus, not just elected officials. Police have tried to put an end to these protests, detaining 774 protestors all over the country on Sunday. These arrests, among others, have only added fuel to the fire.
A day after 100,000 protestors blocked Minsk’s streets, Lukashenko went to Sochi, a small city in Russia, to meet with Putin. This was his first foreign diplomatic trip since protests sparked last month. “A friend is in trouble, and I say that sincerely,” Lukashenko told Putin at the start of a meeting that lasted for four hours. Not much was released about any agreements that took place in the meeting, but that did not stop Lukashenko from flaunting that Putin was supporting his constitutional reforms.
Many people in Belarus are pro-Russian, but the tides may soon turn as many express their discontent with the Kremlin’s stance on the situation. This week, Russia plans on sending paratroops to Belarus for military exercises titled “Slavic brotherhood.” These military drills are supposed to last for ten days and be repeated monthly. Such strong support for the ostracized Lukashenko will undoubtedly make Putin an unpopular figure in Belarus.
Tikhanovskaya, currently exiled in Lithuania, voiced her opinion about the meeting in Sochi. “I want to remind Vladimir Putin, whatever you agree on in Sochi will not have legal force,” she declared on the day of the meeting, “Any agreements signed with the illegitimate Lukashenko will be revisited by the new government.”
That new government is, as of right now, a mere fantasy for the people of Belarus. Overthrowing a despot backed by Russia is far from easy. They need the aid of other countries, especially European countries that have left Belarus sinking into the waters of tyranny. Only by the help of others can the people of Belarus overthrow ‘Europe’s last dictator.’