Alexandr Lukashenko And The "madman’s Theory" Nixon’s: Playing Unpredictable

These have been busy days for the rogue state of Belarus. In recent days, an opposition activist, Vitaly Shyshov, has been found dead hanging from a tree in a park in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev. His death is officially considered a murder. Shyshov ran an NGO helping Belarusians escape growing repression in their country, from which he himself fled in 2020.

For her part, the Olympic 200-meter sprinter, Krystsina Tsimanouskaya, narrowly escaped being put on a plane back home from Tokyo – Poland has granted her a visa on humanitarian grounds. Also the EU Commissioner for the Interior, the Swedish Ylva Johansson, has flown to Lithuania to try to address the issue of migrant smuggling organized by the Belarusian state on the border with its neighboring country (the Government of Minsk has been accused of organizing flights from Baghdad to Belarus: immigrants are taken to the border with guides and the entire operation has been disclosed through social networks).

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Is there a pattern? The hijacking of a Ryanair flight in May and the arrest of activist Roman Pratasevich served to warn all opponents abroad that they would never be safe. Leaked documents and recordings have shown that in 2012 Belarusian leaders allegedly they plotted murders in Germany.

That same year, the former head of the so-called Belarusian KGB was allegedly recorded referring to another exile, the journalist Pavel Sheremet, as “a huge pain in the ass”, and allegedly claimed that “the president was waiting for the operations to take place. “. A car bomb attack in Kiev ended Sheremet’s life in 2016. Five years later, his death remains a mystery.

According to another leak, President Alexandr Lukashenko threatened to build concentration camps with barbed wire in Belarus.

Since his arrest, journalist and blogger Protasevich has appeared several times in what are effectively hostage videos broadcast on Belarusian television. This is in addition to increasingly histrionic propaganda about armed coups and alleged plots to assassinate the president.

Lukashenko may not have read many biographies of Richard Nixon, but he seems to be testing the “mad” theory of foreign policy drawn up by the American president. According to this theory, unpredictability and reckless behavior are actually an advantage, as they unsettle adversaries and even allies.

In this case, the generally softer EU states will question the appropriateness of the sanctions currently imposed on Belarus because of the problems they create. President Vladimir Putin also appears to be a target of this strategy. He and Lukashenko have met multiple times since the rigged elections and mass protests in August 2020, but Putin has repeatedly refused to write him a blank check. Another reason to provoke a conflict with the West is to bring Putin closer.

The Belarusian pirate state has now stepped up its rebellious behavior. Coercion is so far off the scale that the West doesn’t know how to respond. In June 2021, the number of political prisoners in jail was 526, with almost 4,700 rigged lawsuits since last year’s bogus elections.

The UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights for Belarus, Anaïs Marin, informed the UN Security Council that 35,000 people have been arrested since August 2020.

There is a growing refugee crisis: people like Protasevich, who was in Warsaw, Shyshov and now Tsimanouskaya are just three of the many citizens who have left Belarus since August 2020.

Unpredictability in foreign policy is everywhere. In June, Belarus left the EU Eastern Partnership, of which he was a founding member since 2009. In July, Lukashenko closed the border with Ukraine, citing non-existent cases of arms smuggling and threatening to open a second front in Ukraine’s war with Russia’s allied forces in the east. Lukashenko has threatened to flood the EU with drugs and immigrants.

Economic piracy can be the next. The national economy is barely surviving, but there is worrying information that the surviving elite is appropriating everything that generates profits. The Russian word for this situation is “reiderstvo”, not just a corporate assault, but a physical takeover. A dying economy would compound the refugee problem and the regime’s state of siege mentality.

How can this situation be addressed? On August 3, Boris Johnson met with opposition leader Sviatlana Tikhanouskaya at 10 Downing Street, but his comforting claims that the UK was “on his side” they have not been translated into concrete progress.

The investigative journalism portal Bellingcat has advanced that it will investigate the Shyshov case. Belarusian dissidents need adequate protection when abroad. Lithuania needs support to patrol the forest that covers the border between the two countries. The deaths of Shyshov and Sheremet in Kiev highlight the importance of helping Ukraine reform and modernize its security forces.

The UK has provided support in the formation of the Ukrainian army and the Ukrainian Parliament has tabled a bill to reform the Ukrainian Security Service, which is far too powerful, but often incompetent and corrupt. The UK should also look at the London-based assets of the Russian and Belarusian oligarchs who support the regime.

Whether his insanity is calculated or not, the dictator cannot be allowed to continue to act with impunity. And even if we protect our countries and others, we must not forget that Belarusians bear the brunt.

Andrew Wilson is Professor of Ukrainian Studies at UCL and author of the essay Belarus: The Last European Dictatorship.

Translated by Emma Reverter

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