Recently, an analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Center, Maxim Samorukov, assessed the situation in Belarus during Lukashenko's government as follows:
“Belarusian society has long outgrown its permanent ruler with his rural populism. A country where IT is one of the main export items, and the number of Schengen visas per capita is the highest in the world, needs a much more complex and flexible political system than Lukashenko can offer. (...)
Take it away, and in the place of the last dictatorship of Europe there will be a small, orderly and rather prosperous country, which is the best in the post-Soviet space ready to join either the EU or NATO.
But in a situation where the regime in its development is hopelessly lagging behind society, there is nothing unusual. Especially if geopolitical alignments contribute to the preservation of such a regime.
The near-fascist dictatorships of southern Europe looked like an anachronism back in the 1940s, after the end of World War II. But this did not stop them from standing for another thirty years, until the communist threat subsided. Also, Lukashenko can sit on the geopolitical fault line for a long time until the West and Russia get tired of competing for influence in the post-Soviet space..."
These conclusions are also confirmed by Grigory Ioffe, a professor at Radford University, who is personally acquainted with Lukashenko and dedicated two of his books to Belarus "Overestimating Lukashenko: Belarus in a Cultural and Geopolitical Context" and "Understanding Belarus: Why Western Foreign Policy Does Not Hit the Target".
According to Ioffe, which he expressed in an interview with Meduza, it has become finally clear in recent days that Russia is supporting Alexander Lukashenko in the Belarusian political crisis, and is even seemingly ready to provide him with economic assistance, and if necessary, with force. Whatever the end of the protests, Lukashenko has practically crossed out the main achievement of his rule - the real sovereignty of the country, which, paradoxically, the country owes to him.
Here are some of the most important excerpts from this conversation:
About the achievements of Belarus
There is an order of magnitude less [than in Russia] abandoned farmland - on the side of the roads the cow parsnip does not grow in human height. Small towns, and not just regional centers and Minsk, look pretty decent. The trust in the health care and social services system is quite high, and there is a sense of security. The system of GOSTs of the food industry of the Soviet era has been preserved, the network of sanatoriums and rest homes has been preserved and developed.
Belarus is not Ukraine, only in the Grodno region there are some pretty fertile soils. Against this background, six billion dollars of agricultural exports for Belarus is an achievement! At the same time, Lukashenko did not follow the path of deindustrialization, thanks to which he retained employment in industry for a significant part of the population. In the end, he did not allow the appearance of oligarchs there - also, you know, not the most European phenomenon.
And do not forget that for many years, almost since 2008 or 2009, Belarus has received more Schengen visas per thousand inhabitants than any other country in the world whose citizens need a visa to visit the EU countries. This is a very open country, it has not been separated from the Western world for a long time.
About dependence on Russia
All countries of this size are always dependent on someone. The fact that Russia sells oil and gas at discounted prices in exchange for geopolitical loyalty, and given the existence of the Union State, as well as the Eurasian Economic Union, is perfectly normal.
The structure of the economy went to Belarus from the Soviet Union. It was not Lukashenko who came up with the idea that two Belarusian oil refineries sit on the strings of pipelines from Russia. It was not Lukashenko who came up with the idea that the level of gasification in Belarus is much higher than the level of gasification in Russia, from which it receives all this gas. Not under Lukashenko, Belarus was an assembly shop - a Soviet metaphor, but accurate - for the industry of the USSR. This is the legacy of the last 30 years of being part of the Soviet Union.
Lukashenko's “victory” in the elections
Of course, 80% is an inflated figure, primarily through early voting. Of course, no 42% took part in it. I think in reality there were 15-20% fewer of them, but almost everyone who came [to vote early] voted for Lukashenko. Subtract these numbers from 80% - and you get more or less real numbers. So he could well have won the first round with 53–58% of the vote without any markups.
Because, firstly, there are 2.7 million pensioners in Belarus. Secondly, there are over a million state employees in Belarus. Thirdly, (...) another 15–25% of people with a mindset different from the so-called Western values, nostalgic about the Union. That is, out of 6.8 million voters, Lukashenko's electorate is at least half.
These people value peace of mind, infrastructural security, working health care, etc., etc.
Another thing is that 26 years in power is too much in any case. What is he, the English queen, or what? Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. He got used to it.
The Belarusian society has rebelled against violence, that's good. This means that next time it will be less. Moreover, the level of cruelty is now prohibitively high. The units that were sent to the streets are special forces, they are usually not released when a protest involves 200 thousand people. In this case, there was an inadequate reaction: they let out riot police, gave him carte blanche when this could only stimulate further protest.
What does this mean? In my opinion, not only about the increased repressiveness inherent in the system itself, but also about the fact that Lukashenko himself and all his entourage have lost their instincts. This instinct did not change him for a long time. In 2011, he gave me two interviews with a total duration of seven hours. It was a very interesting experience for me, about which I have nostalgic memories. So, then it struck me that even after a decade and a half in power, he kept his finger on the pulse. But in conditions when the information you receive is rigidly filtered, your instinct dulls over time. He could have left beautifully if he had thought of this. Now he is seriously wounded, possibly fatally, although this is not a fact yet.
He doesn't care to return Belarus to the state it was in before it all began. What happened on the ninth and later will never be forgotten. Of course, he is serving his last term. Of course he is traumatized. Of course, the schism that existed before has now acquired the features of an irreconcilable. Nothing can be glued there. The only thing is to say that his days are numbered is still premature.
But he is now completely dependent on Moscow. He lost the political capital that he acquired in the West. Moscow sees perfectly well that Lukashenko is mortally wounded, and this suits it perfectly. Now he will sign all integration cards, including the 31st . All the trump cards are now in Russia, and only Lukashenko himself is to blame. After all, the entire election campaign of Lukashenko, if any, was built on tales of the Russian danger. And now he has changed his shoes in the air, sees the danger exclusively in the West, calls Putin, begging: "Help me".
If Moscow wanted to remove it, it would have done it already. Moreover, the Belarusian proto-Maidan did not come out with anti-Russian slogans. And all this symbolism - white-red-white flags - is completely different. These are not EU or Ukrainian flags as they were during the 2010 protests. But, apparently, Moscow is satisfied with the current situation of complete disarmament of Lukashenko. And strategically, it may just be waiting for a compromise figure to be found.
Lukashenko has made friends with many in the West, including people who influence political decisions, and they have long come to the conclusion that preserving Belarus' sovereignty and statehood is much more important than spreading democracy. Because someone else may come in his place, and he will very quickly surrender his sovereignty.
Taking into account the vague identity of Belarusians, I can confidently say that without Lukashenko, or rather, without his authoritarian regime, Belarus would have become Crimea much earlier than Crimea itself. With stormy and prolonged applause from a significant part of the Belarusian society. Today those who would applaud such a turn of fate are significantly less than, say, before 2003. And this is the merit of Lukashenko's brutal regime.
Yes, this is a drama or even a tragedy of Lukashenko as a person, but this does not negate his merits as the father of the Belarusian statehood, as a person without whom, in general, from my point of view, there would have been no independent Belarus for a long time.