Watching the protests and strikes across Belarus this week has been heart-breaking, inspiring, terrifying, and surprising. And I’m pretty sure that whether this episode ends in triumph or tragedy (and for whom), it is crucially important. A thread 1/15
Full disclosure: we @Crisisgroup don’t have field staff in place in Belarus, so we’re reading our feeds and our emails, like most others. 2/15
It’s been quite a while since Belarus had a vote that most folks didn’t agree was rigged. So no one was surprised this time around that candidates couldn’t register and were arrested, OSCE monitoring invites didn’t go out til too late, etc. 3/15
And then, Belarus started throwing us curves. Two big ones: 1) the fury and scope of the resulting protest and 2) the brutality of the government response. 4/15
Conventional wisdom (yeah, I know) had long held that the people of Belarus knowingly traded electoral choices and freedom of speech for political and economic stability. And maybe they had. But if so, wow, have a lot of them changed their minds this week. 5/15
Equally blown from the water is the flip side: that Lukashenka & co knew what they were doing: delivering stability while drastically limiting any opposition. This week’s brutality against protesters, passers-by, journalists is not the work of a government in control. 6/15
And then there’s the geostrategic angle, or rather lack thereof: The protests aren’t a Russia vs. the West thing. It’s Lukashenka, not his opposition, who’d been reaching out to Western capitals, hoping to weaken Moscow’s leverage over his govt 7/15
He’d made some progress, getting some sanctions reversed by releasing political prisoners, etc. But if anyone in Brussels, DC, etc. thought he was serious about loosening up, they’ve now been proven very, very wrong. 8/15
But neither the public nor what there is of the Belarus opposition is looking for NATO or EU membership. Many have ties to Russia. It seems that after 26 years, they just want choices. Maybe a president who doesn’t pooh-pooh a killer virus? Stuff like that. 9/15
Recall, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who may well have won more than half the vote, and surely got way more than the 10% reported, ran on a platform of stepping down: holding a free and fair election within 6 months. 10/15
Can Lukahsenka hold on? We’ve seen some of his security forces, govt officials turn on him. But I wouldn’t bet on an Armenia scenario. Possible, but unlikely. My guess: If he leaves, it will be because Moscow pressures him to. No one else has that kind of leverage 11/15
Which might be good for Moscow, esp if they can help mediate with Tsikhanouskaya (now in exile in Lithuania) & her team. 12/15
Extra points if they do it in concert with neighbors like Lithuania as well as other European powers like France and Germany. Quite the contrast from the Russian/Belarus war game scenario of Belarus protests starting a NATO-Russia war 13/15
For other European states, please don’t make this into the standoff with Russia it’s not. That’s bad for Belarus & bad for Europe. Please do follow Lithuania’s lead: offer entry to Belarusians who need asylum, fast. Do keep watching and condemning brutality. 14/15
Most importantly, do look for a way out that respects the dignity of the people of Belarus and doesn’t make them pawns in someone else’s game. 15/15
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