World Belarus: "Lukashenko is playing a dangerous game with Moscow"

21:26  01 august  2020
21:26  01 august  2020 Source:   liberation.fr

Cover harvests not protests: Belarus leader threatens to expel foreign journalists

  Cover harvests not protests: Belarus leader threatens to expel foreign journalists Cover harvests not protests: Belarus leader threatens to expel foreign journalistsMINSK (Reuters) - Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko on Thursday threatened to expel foreign journalists whom he accused of inciting protests against him ahead of an August election, urging them to focus on the harvest instead.

Le président russe Vladimir Poutine et le président biélorusse Alexandre Loukachenko au Kremlin le 23 décembre 2014. © MAXIM SHIPENKOV Russian President Vladimir Poutine and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko in the Kremlin on December 23, 2014. In full mobilization of the opposition, Minsk accuses his Russian neighbor of interference in the presidential election, by sending mercenaries from the Wagner group. Belarusian specialist Tadeusz Giczan looks back at the geopolitical context of the affair.

It promised to be another smooth election. In Belarus, the presidential election of August 9 seemed made to offer a sixth term to Alexander Lukashenko, who has governed the country with an iron fist since 1994. But despite the arrest of the main opponents, Svetlana Tshianovaskaïa, wife of one of them, took over , and leads an unprecedented uprising in the country.

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Sufficient to scare the power? On July 29, Minsk announced in any case having arrested thirty-three men, presented as Russian mercenaries of the sinister Wagner group, and accused of acting in conjunction with the opposition to organize "acts of terrorism" and destabilize the country. Tadeusz Giczan, a doctoral student in the School of Slavic and East European Studies at University College London, details the geopolitical implications of these accusations.

Are the accusations made by the Belarusian authorities credible or should they be interpreted only as a means of putting pressure on the opposition?

The version of the story delivered by the Belarusian authorities is very implausible, it is full of absurdities and contradictions . The most likely hypothesis is that these men are really Russian mercenaries, en route to North Africa, and who were only in transit through Minsk. The plot seems to have been fully staged by the Belarusian authorities. It is very likely that they did not come to an early agreement with the Russians, which is quite worrying, as Moscow has shown signs of upset. Alexander Lukashenko should suffer the consequences.

Belarus detains dozens of Russians as election tensions rise

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Does this story show that the Belarusian President is worried about the popularity of the opposition?

Absolutely. The opposition is stronger today than it has ever been in Belarus. At the same time, Lukashenko goes astray. He was one of the most skillful autocrats in the world, but for the past few years he has been making mistakes. It started in 2017 with the so-called "social parasites" tax [which required people working less than six months a year to pay a tax of $ 200. The measure triggered a series of demonstrations, editor's note]. During this campaign, his mistakes snowballed. The story of the mercenaries could be the one with the most serious repercussions, as this time Lukashenko is challenging Russia directly.

The opposition has been accused in the past of wanting to destabilize the regime by force, but these accusations were never linked to Moscow. Why target Russia today?

Whenever there is a crisis in Belarus, the local KGB arrests suspected terrorists, as in 2006, 2010, 2011 or 2017, and the operations are broadcast on television. But each time, the people imprisoned were Belarusians and they were always released without being prosecuted as soon as the crisis emerged. Today, relations with Russia have changed. Putin and Lukashenko never got along particularly well, but the Belarusian president has always managed to strike a balance between Russia and the West and downplay Russian demands. Minsk's room for maneuver was reduced over time, however, and in 2019, Moscow felt powerful enough to demand some form of union with Russia, or even integration of Belarusian territory into the Russian federation, in exchange of his long-standing financial aid.

Belarus detains 33 suspected Russian mercenaries clad in 'military-style clothing'

  Belarus detains 33 suspected Russian mercenaries clad in 'military-style clothing' Nearly three dozen suspected Russian mercenaries clad in “military-style clothing” have been detained in Belarus over accusations of trying to destabilize the country ahead of its upcoming presidential election. © Provided by FOX News Fox News Flash top headlines are here. Check out what's clicking on Foxnews.com. State media is reporting that the 33 individuals taken into custody work for Wagner, a private military company linked to Yevgeny Prigozhin. Prigozhin is a Russian businessman indicted in the United States for meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Did the war in Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea also weigh on relations between Minsk and Moscow?

Yes, they caused Lukashenko to change the score. Since the annexation of 2014 , he has tried to appear in the eyes of the West as a neutral mediator, then to resort to a form of blackmail, on the air of "if you Westerners don't support me not, the Russians will intervene ”. Accusing Russia of interference in the elections today is part of this strategy. He sees it as a way to appeal to the West. But it is a dangerous game.

Minsk claims 200 Russian mercenaries are still in Belarus. What is the point of spreading this kind of rumor?

Distract public opinion. In 2017 [during the unemployment tax crisis], the government claimed that Belarusian nationalists had arrived from Ukraine to organize terrorist attacks. It was pure hogwash. As soon as the crisis subsided, they admitted they had made a mistake and let everyone go. The same is likely to happen this time around.

Russia has been slow to respond to the accusations. How to understand it?

Initially, one might have thought that this lack of reaction could mean that Moscow was really involved or at stake with Minsk, but now it seems that the Russians were simply taken by surprise. On July 31, Putin convened the security council and the border with Belarus was closed. The reaction was slow to come in, but it is falling into place.

In the event of a revolution, do you think that Russia can intervene in Belarus?

It seems very unlikely to me. No one had really anticipated the annexation of Crimea either, but so far my answer is no.

President of Belarus accuses Russia of lying, warns of revolution plot .
President of Belarus accuses Russia of lying, warns of revolution plotMoscow has said Minsk wrongfully arrested a group of alleged Russian mercenaries last week, ahead of an election in Belarus on Aug. 9, seen as Lukashenko's biggest challenge in years.

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