It came as no great surprise that Russian President Vladimir Putin, alongside Chinese President Xi Jinping, was one of the first to congratulate incumbent President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko on his election victory. According to the Kremlin, the cooperation between the two neighboring “brother peoples” should be strengthened, Putin said.
Previously, the long-time incumbent Alexander Lukashenko, who is considered the “last dictator in Europe”, was declared the winner of the presidential election. But reports of pre-filled ballot papers made headlines. According to the human rights organization Wesna, conscripts or employees of state companies are said to have been forced to vote.
Nationwide protests began on Sunday evening. Pictures showed demonstrators running through the streets with bloodied faces, lying motionless on the ground or being dragged away by police officers. Security forces used water cannons, tear gas and stun grenades.
Putin to Lukashenko: “If we rock the boat, we drown together”
Recently, the relationship between Putin and Russia was considered rather tense: for several years there have been problems between the two states – for example in the oil conflict or with a view to integration issues. “For Putin Lukashenko has not been the ‘young brother’ as before,” said Olga Dryndova from the Eastern Europe Research Center in an interview with FOCUS Online.
Nevertheless: “The fact that Putin was one of the first to congratulate Lukashenko, even though there are still no official election results, means that he accepts Lukashenko as president, although probably only a minority voted for him,” said the expert .
Shortly before the presidential election, Lukashenko had 33 Russian mercenaries who were in Belarus arrested for an alleged attempted coup. On election day, however, Lukashenko announced that he and Putin had agreed to settle the matter with the fighters. After all, the conflict could also have another cause: “Perhaps a third country provoked,” said Lukashenko.
After his own vote on Sunday, Lukashenko also reported that Putin had told him that they were both “in the same boat.” And further: “If we rock it, we drown together.” Belarus is economically and geopolitically dependent on Russia. A political revolution in the country would hardly play into Putin’s cards.
Change is difficult if Putin supports Lukashenko
“A change will be difficult as long as Putin continues to support Lukashenko,” commented the Spanish newspaper “El Mundo” on the popular protests on Tuesday. It is also “not surprising that the opposition is faced with the example of neighboring Ukraine, where Putin prevented democratic change and rapprochement with the EU and triggered a conflict that caused thousands of deaths and divided the country.”
Eastern Europe expert Dryndova, on the other hand, warns against placing current events too much in the context of the Ukraine conflict. People are not primarily concerned with geopolitical issues. Rather, they wanted a new face in politics after 26 years, says Dryndova to FOCUS Online. “Neither the protesting Belarusians nor the candidates have a clear geopolitical agenda. They want independence, but they are also in favor of friendly relations with all neighboring countries. “
Does Putin even use the military?
So what role will Russia play in the future? Can Putin intervene? No, says Eastern Europe expert Dryndova. “As long as Russia realizes that Lukashenko’s security forces are in control of the situation, they will not intervene. That is not in their interest. “
Only if the protests continue, Moscow could come into play: If Lukashenko does not have enough security forces, it is conceivable that he will ask Russia for support, believes Dryndova. Franak Viacorka, journalist and media consultant from Minsk, also told “tagesschau.de” that Moscow could intervene militarily: “Nothing is excluded, everything is possible.”
Member states need a uniform stance
Voices from the EU have meanwhile responded with clear criticism of the election. Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called on the Belarusian authorities to “count the votes accurately and publish them”.
Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki proposed a special EU summit on the situation in Belarus. Government spokesman Steffen Seibert also said on Monday that the EU will now discuss how Europe will react together. He called for a uniform stance among the 27 member states. For the federal government there is no doubt that “the minimum standards for democratic elections have not been met,” said Seibert. The reports of election fraud are “credible”.
EU Foreign Representative Josep Borrell said the EU would continue to monitor developments and assess “how to shape a response and the EU’s relations with Belarus”.
How does Germany react?
“I expect a reaction from the EU,” says Dryndova from the Eastern Europe Research Center. “The EU has no other choice. The whole world has seen these pictures and Belarus is right on the border. ”The expert expects a clear reaction from Germany as well.
“In the last few years the German-Belarusian situation has intensified. Steinmeier has visited Belarus and a Belarusian-German history commission has been set up that only started its work this year, ”said the expert. Lukashenko himself took part in the Minsk Dialogue Forum, an expert conference that was financially supported by political foundations from Germany. It is now completely unclear how the cooperation between the two countries will look in the future.
with agency material