Belarus is “Europe’s last dictatorship”. The Eastern European country (sandwiched between the EU to the West and Russia to the East) has been ruled by strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka for the past 26 years. He regularly “wins” over 80% of the vote in sham elections, and his government has long been criticised for persistent civil and human rights abuses.
However, Lukashenka’s regime is in trouble. The 2020 Belarusian presidential election, condemned by the EU as fraudulent, has sparked the largest protests since the country gained independence from the USSR in 1991. Lukashenka was recently heckled by workers while giving a speech at the state-owned Minsk Tractor Works, a scene carrying echoes of Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu being booed by a crowd just before his downfall.
Recent media images of President Lukashenka have portrayed him as unhinged, defiantly flying over protesting crowds in a helicopter brandishing an assault rifle, as well as arming his 15-year-old son with a kalashnikov and body armour. Rather than appearing confident and powerful, these images have an “end of days” feel, making it appear the regime has completely lost control.
However, as the protests enter their third week, there is little sign of Lukashenaka backing down. Instead, the government has been rounding up and arresting opposition figures, as well as placing units of the armed forces on full alert and mobilising military reservists.
Some analysts see echoes of the violent 2014 Ukraine revolution. However, others argue the situation in Belarus is very different. For one thing, the protests in Belarus are not particularly anti-Putin, and (unlike Ukraine) the toppling of the regime would be unlikely to lead to Belarus distancing itself from Moscow.
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