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The Belarusian Atmosphere

Public reassurances on cash that is to be transferred by Russia in order to fill the budget gaps; a lack of possibility of returning money and the quiet takeover of property: such as the privatisation of enterprises or networks of enterprises, in other words the crawling process of becoming dependent on Russia.

December 1, 2013 - Paweł Kowal - Articles and Commentary

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This scenario is very well-known to Belarus. At a certain stage everybody forgets that in the beginning all Alyaksandr Lukashenka cared about was staying in power. The corkscrew effect came only after. The declarations of the Ukrainian government that Kyiv will receive “easier money ‘from Russia’” than from the transformational support from the EU sounds, in this context, very bad; especially because while we can have faith in the EU financial transfers for noble ideals, nobody in this part of the world has heard about similar voluntarism from Russia in the last hundreds years.

Also, the story around the brutal crackdown of the crowd demonstrating in Kyiv looks very bad – it resembles the Belarusian atmosphere. The authorities, which are responsible for the security in the country are condemning the actions of the militia and explain that the attack was a result of a provocation directed towards them. Some of the international observers have started to buy into this version; while others draw circles on their foreheads not trusting the authorities in Kyiv.  In any case, nobody is able to verify the data regarding the sources of the police action.

The world is getting the signal that the Ukrainian authorities have no control over the security forces. The self-destruction of the international reputation of Viktor Yanukovych’s government may be, in this case, unimaginable. It is worth pointing to the example of Belarusian ministers. Nobody trusts them on any issues and to stay afloat on the political surface they have to more and more limit civic liberties – and explain it in different, surprising, ways. At the same time, they are losing the remains of any earnestness; winking to the West that Russia might be behind these “provocations”.

There is a certain regularity here: the first use of force has somewhere in its background the willingness to show one’s force and Putin-like decisiveness. Later, the self-isolation of power follows. Instead of becoming similar to Russia’s president a slow process of becoming dependent on him starts to take place. In the competition of these new “Putins”, the leaders may, at the most, be the new “Lukashenkas”.

The last weeks of negotiations over the Association Agreement with the EU and events which over the last weekend have taken place at Maidan in Kiyv show that the Belarusian scenario can be introduced for implementation in Ukraine. No, not because somebody wants to become a Ukrainian Lukashenka.  But because it has its own dynamic form which it is hard to escape. Especially because the Belarusian option is like alcoholism: its effects also drag on those who are around. Hence, the politicians in the West, quickly deciding – for very noble reasons – on introducing sanctions and all kinds of blockages are unintentionally participating in this process.

President Yanukovych now has the last chance for a positive reaction to the processes that have already taken place.  It is not yet an announcement that he condemns the use of force – such a position, when there are no serious political changes, does not come across as honest and trustworthy. Behind the attacks was nobody else but the special forces of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Those who are now advising Yanukovych are misleading him. If Yanukovych does not react and enters into a serious dialogue with the opposition and the international community, it will be the Maidan which will point to his successor, even if formally he will be elected in 2015.

When the government’s line does not undergo a serious correction and one of the opposition leaders emerges as Maidan’s ataman, the elections will turn into a sheer formality – if there has been no change in power earlier.  Attempts to unlawfully influence the results of the elections will only accelerate the Belarusianisation of the processes and will continue to spiral downwards.

A month ago the idea of Ukraine’s Belarusianisation seemed absurd. President Yanukovych was seen as somebody completely different that Lukashenka and Ukraine in hundreds of ways was seen as different from Belarus. These facts have changed in the recent days. However, a new political phenomena and social processes which are taking place in Kyiv have made us at least take consider such a thesis.

This scenario, however, terrifies not only the students from the European Maidan who are doing what they can to avoid the Belarusian scenario; they are also gaining a serious ally, the same one whom the demonstrators of the 2004 Orange Revolution gained. These are the richest Ukrainians – the oligarchs.

It’s true: it was this group which has lost the most on the trade blockage from Russia which had been taking place in the recent months. However, with the Belaursianisation option, in which a strong government is trying to follow the steps of Putin’s Russia, it clearly won’t be financial profits that will be their problem. What will collapse for sure will be their political position; they will lose big sums of money, the possibility to live in their own country, and in some cases, even freedom.

The case of Mikhail Khodorkovsky is more than clear here. Hence, a question whether President Yanukovych recognises the gravity of the situation and can propose any kind of effective emergency plan (if it’s not too late)? Will the protests just silently pass or will they receive (or maybe already have) financial support from the rich Ukrainians, reinforcing, as in in 2004 an authentic social movement, supported by a strong shoulder of the richest Ukrainians, leading to a change power in Kyiv.

Translated by Iwona Reichardt

Paweł Kowal is a member of the Editorial Board of New Eastern Europe. He is an adjunct at the Institute of Political Studies of the Polish Academy of Sciences and a member of the European Parliament where he chairs the EU-Ukraine Parliamentary Cooperation Committee.

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