LUKASHENKA'S FAILED «PEACEKEEPING GAME»
This is an update on the ongoing political crisis in the Republic of Belarus prepared for you by the International Strategic Action Network for Security (iSANS).
On April 6, the head of Lukashenka’s foreign affairs, Uladzimir Makei, sent what was supposed to be a confidential letter to foreign ministers of EU countries seeking their attention and calling for realpolitik-fashioned dialogue with illegal Lukashenka regime. The letter was leaked to RFE/RL Europe Editor Rikard Jozwiak who published it in his Twitter account causing a major scandal in Belarus.
In Makei’s letter (that was, undoubtedly, approved by Lukashenka), a former head of Belarus diplomacy blackmails the EU by threatening «less EU in Belarus» if Europe will continue to sanction Lukashenka regime. Simultaneously, Makei promises that Belarus is not going to be «dragged» into a war in Ukraine, although Lukashenka and his regime were actively engaged in war since its very first day and deliberately confirmed such participation as an achievement of Lukashenka’s foreign policy. In that sense, Makei is an accomplice of the aggression to the same degree as Lukashenka himself – no matter, how many times he would repeat that the regime will «categorically reject any insinuations about Belarus somehow being involved in the hostilities in Ukraine».
The fact the letter was leaked to media speaks for itself. Neither Makei, nor Lukashenka are considered trustworthy or legitimate. Since all contacts with them have are extremely toxic for the EU politicians and diplomats, the publication of Makei’s letter was used to make sure there will be no deal with Putin’s puppet governor of Belarus by any EU state. Not in the last turn, the publication of Makei’s letter is an act of humiliation of Lukashenka’s trusted man. And, quite possibly, an effort to spark misunderstanding and mistrust between Minsk and Moscow – to see how the Kremlin will react to Lukashenka’s «multipolarity» games.
As Vladimir Putin increases the use of Soviet-style rhetorics of «confrontation» with the West in the outer space, there are growing expectations that the general population in both Russia and occupied Belarus will be suffering from growing economic challenges while Putin will focus his policy on primary idea of confronting the West rather than building human-oriented spaces within Russia and now-occupied Belarus. Lukashenka was potentially seeking for a loophole to ensure his rule with the help of EU recognition, and such step may invest into further worsening of relations with his patron in the Kremlin.
Both Lukashenka and Makei realize that Russia’s war in Ukraine is failing. After Ukraine sank Russia’s largest military ship in the Baltic Sea fleet and captured Viktor Medvedchuk (Putin’s most trusted person in Ukraine and a close contact of Lukashenka and his oil business «moneybags»), the perspectives of war look even gloomier for both Russia and Belarus. Lukashenka realizes that Putin may seek a deal with the West at a certain point in the future that will leave his regime one-on-one with sanctions and thus he «switches from arsonist to firefighter» to again play the same game he enjoyed so much in 2014-2020. Nevertheless, the leak of Makei’s letter and subsequent publication of such document looks like a sign of zero-tolerance policy to Lukashenka and his subordinates in the EU.
Lukashenka shows visible nervousness when he speaks about the acknowledgement of himself and his regime as accomplices of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. Despite his initial bragging about missile launches, shelling and other forms of armed attacks organized against Ukraine from the territory Belarus, Lukashenka is now anxiously trying to make the West believe that his regime has nothing to do with war against Ukraine. It would be a huge mistake to let him or Makei engage into any contacts with the West as equals or treat any of them as state officials of an uninvolved country (unless Lukashenka and Makei seek to step down, face justice, and give way to long-awaited political transformations and peaceful transit in Belarus).
In the last few weeks, it is becoming more evidential that Lukashenka is experiencing significant economic pressure due to existing sanctions and growing attention of the U.S. Commerce Department to Belarus-owned wealth. In particular, Lukashenka regime is losing more sources of income (such as smuggling and international transit) by missing its ability to export and import goods into and from the EU (sometimes, at certain cost to EU businesses).
After the European Union has recently banned lorries from Russia and Belarus from entering or staying in the bloc causing long lines on the border, Minsk introduced its own ban on entry of EU-registered transport (that, however, may hit Belarus itself, but would provide extra income to Lukashenka-related logistics companies). Which in itself is a good example of how the policies of Lukashenka regime are becoming more unbalanced as his team loses professionals while aspiring to help sanctioned moneybags to make money through remaining loopholes. While Minsk-based regime unexpectedly introduces visa-free regime to Lithuanians and Latvians (in an effort to attract foreign currency and buyers of cheap automobile fuel), it simultaneously bans EU-registered trucks from entering Belarus with exclusions created to provide business opportunities for Lukashenka’s trusted businessmen.