Key Developments in Belarus and the 2020 Presidential Election
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Key Developments in Belarus and the 2020 Presidential Election
3 April @ 1:00 pm - 2:00 pm
Belarus has received increased international attention over recent years, much of which has focused on Russia’s ambitions towards the country. While Belarus remains a Soviet-style authoritarian state, authorities have loosened their grip on power, a sign many analysts see as an attempt to stay on good terms with the West. Minsk’s own intentions and capabilities remain unclear, and there is uncertainty over what will happen in next year’s presidential election when Alexander Lukashenko looks likely to stand for his sixth consecutive presidential term. This event will look at recent developments in Belarus’ domestic and foreign affairs.
The Henry Jackson Society is delighted to welcome you to join Andrei Sannikov for a discussion about the current developments in Belarus and next year’s presidential elections.
Andrei Sannikov is a Belarusian politician and activist. In the early 1990s, he headed the Belarusian delegation on Nuclear and Conventional Weapons Armament Negotiations, also serving as the Belarusian diplomat to Switzerland. From 1995 to 1996, he served as Deputy Foreign Minister of Belarus, resigning as a form of political protest. He co-founded the civil action Charter 97, and was awarded the Bruno Kreisky Prize in 2005. Sannikov was a candidate at the 2010 presidential election in Belarus, and had the second highest percentage of the popular votes after incumbent Alexander Lukashenko.
Dr. Andrew Foxall has been Director of the Russia and Eurasia Studies Centre at the Henry Jackson Society since 2013 and in 2017 became Director of Research. Previously, Andrew held academic positions at the University of Oxford and Queen’s University Belfast. Andrew’s research focuses on economic, political and security trends in Russia and the former Soviet Union. He is the author of Ethnic Relations in Post-Soviet Russia (Routledge, 2014) and numerous academic articles. He has written for publications including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Telegraph, Times, Foreign Affairs, TIME, Foreign Policy and the Moscow Times, as well as several other journals and newspapers. Andrew has also had his commentary carried in the Washington Post, the Observer and elsewhere. He regularly appears on international media outlets, including the BBC, CNBC, CNN and Sky News. Andrew holds a DPhil from the University of Oxford.
On the 3rd April, the Henry Jackson Society was delighted to host our latest event, “Key Developments in Belarus and the 2020 Presidential Election.” Andrei Sannikov, a Belarussian activist and politician who was the runner up in the 2010 Belarussian presidential elections, spoke with Dr. Andrew Foxall, Director of the Henry Jackson Society’s Russia and Eurasia Studies Centre, regarding the latest developments in Belarussian politics.
In introducing the event, Dr. Foxall described Belarus as ‘Europe’s Last Dictatorship,’ an epithet which it is commonly referred to as. In particular, Dr. Foxall pointed to the rising concerns of Russian influences in Belarus. Recent conversations regarding the relationship between Belarus and NATO potentially strengthening were also mentioned, further giving reason to focus on Belarus’ location within Eastern European politics.
Sannikov began by emphasizing that there was only a recent shift towards focusing on Belarus; in fact, for most of its time the country was relatively ignored or overlooked. In light of recent reports by both Western media and NGOs concerned with the relationship with Russia, Sannikov stated that these reports were not an exaggeration. In fact, he went on to hypothesize that Russian President Putin would make some sort of advance towards Belarus in 2-3 years’ time. Because Alexander Lukashenko had established his regime on a repression of national identity and claims to be a ‘Soviet internationalist,’ it is difficult to garner support abroad for Belarussian issues. Additionally, Sannikov highlighted the fact that there is no such thing as a ‘lesser evil’ in the former Soviet sphere; you cannot support one dictator over another because the fundamental issues still remain.
In speaking about the relationship between Belarus and Russia, Sannikov brought up the fact that Belarus is a hub for smuggling Western food items into Russia after the country was sanctioned. He gave the example of seeing clams and mussels ‘imported from Belarus’ in Russian shops, despite the fact that Belarus is an entirely landlocked country. Belarus has also served as a training ground for Russian military exercises, indicating the fact that Belarus is a part of Russia’s strategic military plans.
Sannikov then moved on to discuss the human rights issues in Belarus. He spoke of his own incarceration after the 2010 Belarussian elections, but also emphasized that it was not only activists who were being imprisoned for political reasons, but also average citizens who occasionally expressed their opinions. Sannikov stated that President Lukashenko was afraid of both political and economic reform, which was part of the reason that both the government and the people of Belarus were suffering economically.
In concluding, Sannikov warned that protests like those that took place in 2010 were likely to happen again. He emphasized the need for real elections and freedom of speech in Belarus. Finally, Sannikov warned that the next two years would see a growth in the opposition, remarking that the lead up to the 2020 elections would be interesting times.
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