Politics

Scenarios for Belarus

The most large-scale protests have been shaking Belarus for several weeks now. Hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets to express their disagreement with the presidential election fraud and the impunity of the security forces. Stark pictures showing the brutal beating of protesters, including women and minors, have flown around all global media.
Bohdan Ferens
Founder SD Platform
The European Union, like many other states, has strongly condemned the use of force against protesters and called for an honest vote count.

In turn, the current government represented by Lukashenko is doing its utmost to intimidate and weaken the opposition as well as split the protest movement into moderate and more reactionary camps.

According to Mykola Kapitonenko, Associate Professor at the Institute of International Relations of Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv, Belarus has found itself in a difficult situation, but it was to be expected. All post-Soviet countries, with the exception of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, have built ineffective political systems that constantly face the problems of a deficit of democracy, legitimacy and power transit.

He believes that the current crisis has turned out to be quite profound and that the way out of it envisages three possible scenarios.
1. "Armenian" variant.
Lukashenko's departure may be possible as a result of a re-election or total pressure. However, the degree of dependence of the country's economy on Russia may even increase, which, in turn, will confront the new president - whoever he or she may be - with the task of continuing Lukashenko's policy in general by furnishing it with more democratic decorations.
2. Protest crackdown.
The weak spots of the current opposition to the regime are quite numerous and widely covered. Any mistakes or loss of initiative can result in a quick defeat: in general, Lukashenko retains overall control over the security forces. Traditionally, the Kremlin's influence on the Belarusian security sector is quite substantial; therefore, the realization of this scenario will largely depend on Moscow's decisions.
3. "Venezuela":
The establishment of diarchy or prolonging the crisis (for several months). Neither side has the strength to turn the tide in its favor; external factors will contribute to the mobilization of the protest sentiment and the preservation of division lines in the society. However, it should be noted that this scenario is the least likely, since Russia will hardly allow this kind of uncertainty to exist on its borders for too long.
Iliia Kusa, an expert at the Ukrainian Institute for the Future, has also shared one of the possible scenarios for Belarus. He identifies five possible ways out of this situation, each of which can bring its own implications.
1. Lukashenko's victory.

This scenario is possible if several or all of the following factors come to pass:

  • The West is not able to take a specific position on Belarus, and its position does not go beyond calls for a national dialogue and a review of the election results.
  • Russia provides Lukashenko with political, technological, informational and financial support, helps him bind the elites together and prevent their split, directly intervenes in the creation of a new socio-political order within Belarus with the West's acquiescence.
  • The Belarusian opposition does not become a capable entity both within the country and in its dialogue with external actors, thus remaining at the level of a symbol of the disgruntled"street."
  • Part of the Belarusian opposition starts negotiations with Lukashenko on his terms, which will lead to a split and disorientation of the opposition forces. It is also possible that opposition figures who will not be ready to take responsibility for the further fate of the protests will not return to the country.

Bottom line: A. Lukashenko will stay in power, but likely repressive measures on his part against protesters and disloyal workers, members of election commissions, politicians and journalists may again lead to another phase of confrontation in the short term. Thus, a scenario is likely in which Lukashenko, having held on to the reins of power and having survived the current protests, will be forced to conduct a controlled transition of power on his own terms and in a more favorable environment.
2. Victory of the opposition.

This scenario is possible when several or all of the following factors are true:

  • The opposition acquires within Belarus and is able to generate a unified and clear position towards the authorities, a vision of the future state and the basic principles of its approach to social order and governance.
  • The opposition is able to establish close ties with external players. This concerns not only attracting financial resources for protest actions but also developing political contacts, involving lobbyists, well-wishers in the governments and parliaments of different countries. This applies to both the West and China with Russia.
  • The opposition takes responsibility for street protests and coordinates the actions of all social groups that are in favor of a re-election, including the urban middle class, young entrepreneurs, students and the "proletariat" - the core of Lukashenko's electorate, and establishes communication with them for the future, not limiting itself to the period of protests.
  • Among the Belarusian security officials, there is a split and fragmentation according to centers of loyalty: refusal to suppress protests, taking the side of the demonstrators (this requires a clear actor on the other side), maintaining loyalty to local communities and regional elites.
  • A further split takes place among the highest political elites, such as switching sides in favor of the opposition by such persons as former Minister of Culture Pavlo Latushko. Establishing contacts between the opposition and part of the pro-Lukashenko elites.
  • The West decides to impose economic and financial sanctions against Lukashenko, his associates and big business. This relates to both EU and US sanctions.
  • Russia is not willing to save Lukashenko and use all its forces to help him, remaining committed to a slightly different approach to Belarus than to Ukraine by viewing all the local people, not only political elites, as friends. So far, Moscow has adhered to this principle and not vice versa.
  • The actions of the security forces to suppress the protests radicalize the opposition and ratchet up pressure on Minsk as well as increase the toxicity of the President of Belarus.

Bottom line: this can lead to both a voluntary resignation of Lukashenko and a violent overthrow of the government. Upon assuming power, the opposition will try to reframe the political system in its favor and meet the desires of external forces, whose help they have enlisted. This implies amending the Constitution, restoring contacts with the West and the Russian Federation already in the power status and renewing the social order on a new basis. However, this scenario presupposes too many unknown variables.
3. National compromise.

This scenario is possible when several or all of the following factors come to pass:

  • Lukashenko agrees to negotiate with the opposition. A mediator appears in such negotiations.
  • The opposition becomes a full-fledged actor and forms a specific body / delegation for negotiations.
  • Lukashenko is given a guarantee of security and freedom of maneuver inside the country and / or his exile abroad is organized, although the latter is unlikely.
  • Part of the pro-Lukashenko elites and his team of technocratic officials agree to work with opposition representatives and establish communication.
  • A new election is held, a new Constitution is adopted and the system is reframed so that all the players safe their face and enter the new political reality without offense, mutual threats, accusations and with plans for revenge and defeating their competitors.
  • A national consensus is formed within Belarus.
  • A compromise is formed around Belarus among Russia, the EU, the US and China.
  • A new roadmap and a vision of the country is agreed upon, adopted, and accepted by all the negotiators without exception. A possible formation of a coalition government prior to the new election.
  • A peaceful transit of power from A. Lukashenko is ensured, during which he voluntarily leaves, but his political power remains in the system, as does his legacy.

Bottom line:
this option provides for concessions from all sides. If the parties are ready for this, then it is quite likely, given the unwillingness of the parties to get involved in a bloody confrontation and seize power by force. In this case, an intermediate, temporary political regime will be established in Belarus, responsible for establishing an initial outline of a new political balance of power, maintaining a balance between the security forces, the government and the protesters as well as shaping new goals / vision / positions of Belarus after the transformation. At this time, Belarus will become extremely vulnerable to any external interventions, be they political, economic or financial, which increases the role of external actors.
4. Destabilization.

This scenario is possible when several or all of the following factors are true:

  • Lukashenko decides to suppress the protests by using the army.
  • Radical groups in the streets use weapons against the security forces, which will lead to a more violent suppression of demonstrations.
  • Russia and other external players decide to raise the stakes and shake the situation to the limit in the face of a foreign policy standoff.
  • Within the Belarusian establishment, an attempt is made to seize power by a separate political faction, which will lead to an imbalance of the entire system and a collapse of the loyalty of the security forces into several centers of influence.

Bottom line: this is the bloodiest scenario in terms of a potential human toll. It will lead to regional destabilization, clashes may occur on the border of Belarus with Ukraine, Poland or Lithuania. Lukashenko will lose all legitimacy, and the confrontation will take on the features of a zero-sum conflict. Everyone loses from this scenario, but the influence of external players will see a dramatic surge, without which it is extremely difficult to resolve such a situation.
5. Controlled transit.

This scenario is possible when several or all of the following factors come to pass:

  • After scenario 1, if Lukashenko decides to suppress new outbreaks of confrontation, but the outside pressure on him continues.
  • After scenario 3, if Lukashenko retains his post, and the opposition agrees to a smooth transition of power.
  • Amid ongoing protests, Lukashenko voluntarily announces his resignation, holds a referendum on the Constitution followed by a transition of power with the consent of external players. The role of the opposition in this case may be secondary if it is taken out of the process of acquiring actorness.
  • If a new election is called, Lukashenko might not take part in it but nominate one of his associates or agree with someone from the "understandable" opposition figures from within the system, such as Valerii Tsepkalo or Viktor Babariko.

Bottom line: this scenario preserves the controllability of the processes in Belarus and Lukashenko's legacy in a certain form. It is the safest way for both Lukashenko himself and other internal and external players. Nonetheless, it also has many unknown inputs related to uncertainty about the new political reality.
Hopefully, with the help of the above scenarios it will be possible to at least partially reduce the degree of public uncertainty and disorientation, stimulating, in turn, a better understanding of the current situation. In many ways, the future fate of Belarus will depend on the ability to avoid deep divisions in the society, a violent struggle and a loss of integrity. Given the current circumstances, this is quite a challenging, but entirely realizable, task. The main thing is to take a sober look at the situation and hope for the best.
20.08.2020
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