For many Belarusians, Alexander Lukashenko is the only leader they’ve ever known. He has maintained a tight grip on the country since first becoming president in 1994, but Lukashenko now faces the greatest challenge yet to his rule. He claimed victory in a presidential election earlier this month that was widely decried as fraudulent, and took place amid a wave of pro-democracy protests across the country. The unrest has only grown after official election results showed Lukashenko winning around 80 percent of the vote.
A bloody crackdown on protesters by security forces last week left at least two people dead and hundreds more injured. Calls of solidarity with the protesters have now spread to workers at state-owned factories, journalists at state media outlets, and even some members of the police force. Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin says he is ready to assist Lukashenko “if necessary,” but just how far Putin is willing to go for his ally remains unclear. Western countries are cautioning Putin not to intervene. China, too, is watching closely, given its growing investments in trade links and infrastructure projects in Belarus.
According to WPR columnist Candace Rondeaux, the situation resembles a “three-way game of chicken” between Belarus, Russia and China. This week on Trend Lines, she joined WPR’s Elliot Waldman to discuss the multidimensional competition for influence in Belarus and what the protests could mean for the country’s future. Rondeaux is a professor of practice in the School of Politics and Global Studies at Arizona State University and a senior fellow with the Center on the Future of War, a joint initiative of Arizona State and the think tank New America. Her WPR column is published every Friday. Click here to read a transcript of an excerpt from the interview.
Relevant Articles on WPR:
‘It’s Not Normal for Belarus.’ Lukashenko Faces Growing Pre-Election Protests
Making Sense of the Arrest of Russian Mercenaries in Belarus
Is Russia’s Pressure on Belarus Putting It in Play for the West?
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Trend Lines is produced and edited by Peter Dörrie, a freelance journalist and analyst focusing on security and resource politics in Africa. You can follow him on Twitter at @peterdoerrie.
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