Belarus: Friction with the U.S. and E.U. Will Remain High After Upcoming Elections

Posted in Other | 15-Mar-06 | Author: Federico Bordonaro

On March 19, 2006, presidential elections will occur in Belarus. No surprises are expected, as Alexander Lukashenko is set to win a new mandate. In October 2004, Lukashenko succeeded in winning a controversial referendum that allows him to compete for a third time after his previous wins in 1994 and 2001. Although his margin against competitors may be slightly narrower than in the past, Lukashenko is likely to comfortably win as his grip on the fundamental levers of power seems firm and hardly assailable.

The outcome of the Belarusian polls will be carefully monitored in Moscow, Washington and Brussels. Minsk plays an important geopolitical role for Russia since Moscow is striving to retain influence in Eastern Europe. Western powers have so far failed to cause a pro-Western political turn (such as in Ukraine and Georgia) to occur in the former Soviet country. The real issue is what consequences the expected Lukashenko win will bring for Russian-Western relations and Eastern European politics.

Actors and Stakes

Lukashenko has been repeatedly accused of undermining Belarusian democracy by using violent means against members of the opposition (intellectuals and politicians alike). Especially after his second win in 2001, many U.S. and European media organizations and institutions have issued reports about repression and even murders of some of Lukashenko's rivals. Minsk, however, has systematically denied such charges and instead points out that Washington has orchestrated a subversive campaign aimed at inducing a "regime change" in the country.

On March 19, Lukashenko's most popular rival will be Alexander Milinkevich, whose supporters often gathered in the streets of Minsk; these demonstrations have been severely repressed by the police. Early this month, another candidate, Alexander Kazulin, and his closer collaborators were reportedly physically beaten by Belarusian special forces during a meeting in Minsk.

Both Milinkevich and Kazulin look to the West for support, and therefore appear to be the ones who could usher in a dramatic change in Minsk's traditional pro-Russian stance.

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