20 years under Putin: a timeline

The New Struggle

Thus, political landscape of Belarus has once again been purged of opposition. After their release from imprisonment, many opposition members left the country and continue their work in emigration. One of them is former presidential candidate Ales Mikhalevich. In a conversation with IMR, he said that he is planning to focus on consolidating Western stance on Belarus and on developing relations with Russia. “Germany is an important country for us, because it’s the only country whose opinion Russia takes in to account even though it may not follow it,” Mikhalevich explained.


Former presidential candidate, currently residing in Prague, Ales Mikhalevich (left) points out that political change in Belarus will come through the disloyalty of the elites; head of the United Civil Platform Party, Anatoly Lebedko (right) says that his party focuses its efforts on developing a comprehensive strategy for post-Lukashenko period.


Mikhalevich also gave an assessment of the prospects for regime change in Belarus. In his opinion, this change will not come so much through protest activities as through the disloyalty of the elites. “If nothing happened in the last three years, when wages dropped threefold, nothing will happen now. I believe that at some point people can help, go to the streets, but the revolutionary overturn will take place within the political elite.”

Anatoly Lebedko told IMR that, before the parliamentary election of September 23rd, his party (UCP) had launched a new campaign “For Fair Elections Without Lukashenko” and announced “an active boycott of pseudo-elections to the pseudo-parliament.” He then added, “Today, we concentrate our efforts and resources on strategy three step strategy: release and rehabilitation of all fourteen political prisoners; fair and free elections; modernization of Belarus. Upon the UCP initiative, the so-called “Small Constitution” has already been drafted and passed by the Congress of the Democratic Forces. [The Small Constitution] is an agreement on the political structure of a new Belarus. In addition to that, we are completing our work on the modernization plan for Belarus. This document draws upon all our previous works: the Anti-crisis Program; a Million of New Jobs for Belarus Program; the Economic Constitution; et al.”

In 2010, a new program entitled “Europe Without Dictatorship!” was launched in Belarus. As Igor Lednik, a human rights activist, told IMR, its goal is to remove Lukashenko from the President’s office; overcome dictatorship through democratic reforms; to release and rehabilitate of political prisoners. Garry Pogoniaylo, a prominent Belarusian human rights activist and lawyer, provides legal support for this campaign. He addressed two letters to the Belarusian parliament requesting dismissal of the president from the office: one on the grounds of his bad health; the other—based on his commission of a serious crime.


Vladimir Borodach (left), former Foreign Military Intelligence (GRU) officer and a political exile residing in Germany, has recently co-founded the Council of National Renaissance of Belarus (CNR) that aims at overthrowing Lukashenko's regime in three years.


Meanwhile, a completely new opposition movement has been formed—the Council of National Renaissance of Belarus (CNR). Vladimir Borodach, who heads CNR’s organizing committee, told IMR that the Council is a new coalition of opposition forces that includes 53 regional civil activists inside Belarus and a number of emigrant politicians (Anufry Romanovich, Vitaly Timoshchenko, Leonid Vasyuchenko). The goal of this organization is to change the regime within three years. Both evolutionary and revolutionary scenarios are being considered. After such change, CNR has set itself the task of creating new legitimate authorities in Belarus based on transparent democratic election and reform of the economic and political system. “The Council is supposed to become a coordination center of the national liberation from the Lukashenko regime, and later—a body within interim provisional government.”

In Borodach’s words, the so-called “old” opposition (parties and their leaders that have been fighting with Lukashenko for years) has discredited itself. “Today, approximately 70% of the Belarusians aspire for changes. And the goal of Lukashenko’s political game is to link the hopes of the Belarusians who aspire for these changes with concrete political “puppets”—leaders of certain opposition parties that work on orders of the special services and against their own colleagues,” Borodach said. “These “puppets pretend to engage in the political struggle, lose the elections as a part of the plan, and then convince their voters that they will win in the following election.” He named at least two former presidential candidates—Yaroslav Romanchyuk and Grigory Kostusyov—as such “puppets.”

Vladimir Borodach: “The goal of Lukashenko’s political game is to link the hopes of the Belarusians who aspire for these changes with concrete political “puppets.”

“The current state of opposition is just sad,” he continued. “And you have to blame the Belarusian special services for this. The work on the following principle: if you want to destroy an organization, you need to head it.” As Borodach points out, none of the Belarusian opposition leaders would be able to survive, if they did not cooperate in some way with the special services. It is especially true considering the fact that financial support for developing civil society and democratic movements inside Belarus that comes from the West, is usually intercepted by the Belarusian special services.

The Council of National Renaissance is positioning itself as “new” opposition that could be an alternative to the “old” one. “Today, the most active part of society that can take part in overthrowing the regime are the people who serve it and hate it,” Borodach said. “And CNR has a chance to gain authority not only with the masses, but also with the elite—people who work at the Presidential Administration.”


The Twilight of the Dictatorship

Lukashenko built his authoritarian regime based on three pillars: a cruel repressive machine, powerful propaganda and financial support from Moscow. For a decade and a half this system worked: the Belarusian President managed to cleverly maneuver between the interests of the West and Moscow and was sensitive to the slightest change in the geopolitical or economic environment. He was able to create a relatively sovereign, politically independent state with a touch of Soviet retro, where the first principle was that political freedom would be exchanged for social protectionism.


It seems that the number of mistakes made by Lukashenko has reached a critical mass, and his authoritarian regime is entering its twilight.


However, during the last two years, Lukashenko’s system has become completely exhausted. Last year’s economic crisis showed that without foreign financial support, the Belarusian “economical wonder” is no more than an illusion. The acts of cruel repression destroyed Belarus’ relationship with the European Union, while political obstinacy dampened the relationship with Moscow. The number of mistakes made by Lukashenko has reached a critical mass, and today he is forced to abide by the terms of his Russian creditors. The Belarusian president’s power has been dramatically diminished, leaving him little room for maneuver.

Any real national project presupposes a certain view of the future. The European Union is trying to preserve its integration project. Russia sees itself as the center of the future Eurasian Union. But Lukashenko’s ideology comes down to preserving and expanding his own power. The neo-Soviet project based on the values of traditional society that he has implemented will be destroyed sooner or later, whether by domestic or foreign forces or by virtue of globalization.

Authoritarian regimes develop under various scenarios. It is clear that the Belarusian version has reached its political, economic and ideological end. Lukashenko fully depends on the Kremlin to maintain his regime. Considering that Russian authoritarianism, Putin style, is beginning to crack, changes in the political structure of the Kremlin inevitably will bring change to Belarus.