The World Today for February 01, 2022


The Toady’s Dilemma


Totalitarian President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus recently issued a message to opposition figures who have left the former Soviet republic in Eastern Europe. “My advice to you: come home, repent and kneel,” Lukashenko said during his annual state of the nation address, according to the Associated Press.

Having served as president for almost 30 years, Lukashenko retained power despite massive protests against his regime in 2020 after winning a sixth term in office through elections that critics said were rigged.

During his address, he also said he would step down if voters opted to reject his proposed amendments to the Belarusian constitution that are scheduled for a vote on Feb. 27. The amendments would allow him to hold power until 2035 and give him more power in the All-Belarus People’s Assembly, a body criticized as a tool that conveys an illusion of democracy.

Proponents of the amendments said they would foster stability. “Belarus will continue to be a welfare state with a focus on education, traditional family values, support for orphans and children left without parental care, as well as the elderly and people with disabilities,” Council of the Republic member Dmitry Baskov told Belta, the country’s state-owned news agency.

The Atlantic Council, a Washington, DC-based think tank, described any notion that the referendum and the amendments would improve Belarus as “farcical.”

Moreover, Russian troops recently moved into Belarus as part of a potential invasion of Ukraine, reported Stars and Stripes. It’s not clear how they might affect the referendum. From Kazakhstan to Ukraine, Russian forces rarely bring democracy or political independence. The European Council on Foreign Relations predicted they would erode Belarusian sovereignty.

Hackers calling themselves “cyber partisans” have already disrupted rail networks in Belarus in order to slow the Russian deployment, the Washington Post wrote.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has propped up Lukashenko’s regime in the past, has cast doubt on whether he wants the Belarussian leader to remain in power. Lukashenko, meanwhile, has appeared to resist Russian attempts to undermine his authority. But Lukashenko has also recently said Belarus would fight alongside Russia if Putin goes to war, as Euronews wrote.

Meanwhile, Poland is currently building a wall along its frontier with Belarus in order to stop asylum seekers from entering their country, reported the Guardian. Polish officials claim Lukashenko encouraged the refugees to come from the Middle East and beyond in order to destabilize the European Union.

Did Lukashenko do that? If so, did he think up the idea himself or do it at the behest of Putin? The answer might not matter in substantive terms but it sure would shed light on how powerful autocrats think.

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