Minsk (dpa) – After more than three months of protests in Belarus, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has called on ruler Alexander Lukashenko in Minsk for reforms.
He expressly conveyed greetings from Kremlin chief Vladimir Putin at the presidential palace on Thursday. And then immediately demands that all agreements that both have made are fulfilled. By this he also meant the constitutional reform and a modernization of the political system promised by Lukashenko, Lavrov says with unexpected clarity.
Protests and strikes by opponents of Lukashenko have shaken countless cities for months. The ruler of Minsk insulted the people as “rats”, “prostitutes” and “alcoholics” and stressed at every opportunity not to give up power at any cost. “Although he has announced a new constitution and promised to limit the powers of the president in the future, there is no real dialogue with the democracy movement,” said Minsk political scientist Valery Karbelevich of the German news agency.
Russia also wants – and Lavrov pledges support to Lukashenko and his colleague Vladimir Makey – a new constitution that strengthens the role of parliament and the government. In fact, after the changes, a referendum on the new constitution and then new elections would be scheduled. “Russia also sees Lukashenko playing for a limited period of time, nothing changes and feels safe in the saddle again,” said Karbelevich.
Instead, Lukashenko has been repressing opposition demands for a democratic constitution, for his resignation and for new elections for months with massive police brutality. Lavrov dodges – as he often does – in Minsk and points to Paris or Berlin, where the state also uses rubber bullets against protesters. He does not mention that the democracy movement in Belarus is essentially peaceful and that a meeting is never approved.
In addition, so far there have been several deaths in protests, hundreds of injuries and tens of thousands of arrests in Belarus. Expert Karbelevich speaks of the “worst repression” in a European country for decades. The analysts in Minsk, including Artyom Schraibman, nevertheless believe that Lavrov’s visit serves to get Lukashenko on his feet and get the situation under control.
Moscow has no interest in an unstable situation with its neighbor, says Schraibman. Economically, too, the country is slipping deeper into a crisis, to the annoyance of Russia. The previous EU sanctions against Lukashenko and his leadership are not very effective. But there could be real economic sanctions. “That would hit the system much harder,” says the expert Karbelevich. He assumes that Lavrov had warned Lukashenko not to risk even tougher EU sanctions, as they could also hit Russia.
Karbelevich even sees the possibility that Russia and the EU could agree to remove Lukashenko. In return, Moscow could not be dealt with as harshly with sanctions as it is now, he says, over the poisoning of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny. But for the time being, Lavrov makes clear, Moscow will stick to Lukashenko. The EU no longer recognizes Lukashenko as president after the presidential elections, which were widely considered forged.
The country with close economic ties to Russia is in the worst crisis in its history since the presidential elections on August 9. During protests, the democracy movement led by 38-year-old Svetlana Tichanowskaya is calling for Lukashenko’s resignation, an end to police violence, the release of all political prisoners and new elections. The movement considers Tichanovskaya, who fled to the EU in exile, as the real winner of the elections.
Tichanovskaya said of Lavrov’s visit: “Whatever you agree with Alexander Lukashenko, he has lost support among the Belarusian people. That means all deals and contracts will be scrutinized and canceled by the new government. At the same time, she stresses the goal of friendly and partnership-based relations with Russia. And the protests against Lukashenko, she continues to say, continued – until victory.