Thursday, April 27, 2006

Belarus - Opposition Leader Jailed

After a press conference in Minsk this morning, Belarus opposition leader and former presidential candidate Alyaksandr Milinkevich was arrested by Belarus police. The arrest was due to an "illegal" demonstration in Minsk on Wednesday to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Chernobyl accident.

According to Interfax, "The Pervomaisky district court in Minsk has sentenced former opposition candidate for the Belarussian presidency Alexander Milinkevich to 15 days of administrative arrest for unsanctioned actions during the Chernobyl Shlyakh procession in Minsk on March 26. Milinkevich is to appeal the judgment."

Milinkevich claims that permission for the demonstration had been granted by authorities. He has also been known for trying to restrain his followers on such occasions, in order not to provoke violent action from the police. Wednesday's demonstration thus seems only a pretext for the authorities to put Milinkevich in jail.

Even though the Chernobyl anniversary all the more has turned into an opposition rally during recent years, it is remarkable that Belarus authorities chooses this opportunity to clamp down on Milinkevich. Perhaps, it testifies to the desperation of the Lukashenka government, which was gravely shocked by the extent of public protests after massive fraud in the recent presidential elections.

Chernobyl is a hotter issue in Belarus than might be expected 20 years after the accident. The people of Belarus have never really learnt the full extent of the accident and the government has put a lid on information on its consequences for the country. Basic information on radiation levels is therefore not available and no real official assessments of the health and environmental effects have become public.

This year, such worries have taken a new turn as Lukashenka wants to repopulate those areas of Belarus that in 1986 were evacuated due to high levels of nuclear radiation. The decision to repopulate worries many people, as nobody really knows how contaminated these vast areas still are. To make people move back thus seems as yet another irresponsible and cynical action by Lukashenka. As long as people are barred from knowledge and information, it is like asking "-Would you like to move to Chernobyl?".

9 comments:

La Russophobe said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Pan Zavalnia said...

Hi Vilhelm!

My name is Yahor, I'm from Belarus. How do you think why Russia begin to blackmail Belarusian goverment with higher gas prices?

Your opinion, as opinionof an expert, is interesting for me.

Vilhelm Konnander said...

Dear Yahor,

You are probably more of an expert on the subject than I am.

However, as you have asked me, I will take some wild guesses. Thus, I would probably say that it has to do with personality and money.

First, there is no love lost between Putin and Lukashenka. Indeed, one recurrent rumour is that Kozulin's appearance as presidential candidate was initiated by Kremlin interests, even if I would not take that at face value. If so, Moscow may have wanted to show Lukashenka - by this pedagogical example - just how easy they might rob him of his powers. What we know is that there at least was something fishy going on in the Belarus power circles at the time of elections.

Second, so much in Russia these days is about money. The Kremlin is turning into a money-making machine, so strong interests may simply have said: "Why should we put up with this Lukashenka character anymore. He is to no real use for us. Let him pay more for us to pocket the money ourselves instead."

These are simply a few wild guesses, and the truth might be somewhere in between - if the above assumptions are at all relevant.

What do you think yourself?

Yours,

Vilhelm

Pan Zavalnia said...

Hi Vilhelm!

Gas price is extremely impotent for Belarusian economy. Mr. Lukashenko
is still a ruler just due to possibility to re-export Russian gas to
Western Europe and using this extra money for financing of social programs.

I hope gas price is a question only of money but Russian can also
achieve another results.

I see some reasons for gas price talks:

1. Russia shows to G7 countries that they stopped to support
Belarusian regime as they don't want to have problems during G8 summit
this summer. When the summit will be completed they can forget
about higher gas prices for Belarus.

2. Russian showed interest in purchasing Belarusian gas pipe some
years ago but Belarusian government don't sell it still. Russia hope
to force this purchasing with blackmail. But Lukashenka lose his weak
influence on Russia without the pipe.

3. Some days ago Gazprom's representative said this will be a nice
idea to make gas payments with a common Russian-Belarusian currency.
This is a good chance for Russians to take to take Belarusian economy
levers to their hands and even to make a common state.

What do you think about my versions?

Thanks!
Yahor

Vilhelm Konnander said...

Dear Yahor,

As I expected, I was to learn more from you than you from me. Thank you for this. Indeed, I have not thought as much as you have on the various factors that you address, at least not in concert. Thus, I believe that your analysis in specific reasons for current policy is much better than mine on this point.

1. Russia's G8 presidency might have some short-term effect on Russian behaviour. On the other hand, Russia has so far demonstrated a high degree of insensitivity to the demands of a presidency. The year started off with the Ukrainian gas crisis. We have the recent blockade against wines from Georgia and Moldova, and numerous other examples. It thus seems that the Kremlin is not particularly affected in their policy by the G8 presidency, and the country's candidacy for the WTO. Still, it might well be so that Putin has realised that enough is enough, and is now taking greater heed to Western demands. Moreover, in the case of Belarus, it would not cost Russia anything. Finally, I am not convinced that Belarus gas prices will drop once the G8 presidency is over. Gazprom will probably keep it on a level that makes the Lukashenka regime just survive.
2. Ownership of infrastructure is a very heavily weighing reason for Moscow's and - above all - Gazprom's actions towards Belarus. You are so correct in pointing to this basic factor of infrastructure control and ownership. It forms a basis of Putin's thinking in how to increase Russian power projection abroad, and is a smart and clever strategic move, regardless of energy prices.
3. The question of unification of Russia and Belarus is, I believe, not a very hot issue. Why should Moscow go to the trouble of
not only supporting a country financially, but also carry its political burden? It would be outright stupid of Putin to incorporate an independent state. To have to deal with problems of Belarus nationalism and opposition, when Putin can sit back and watch Lukashenka - or some puppet on a chain - do the job for him, is very much preferrable to incorporating the country into Russia. Thus, Moscow has little to gain from unification for now. If it takes place, I believe it will happen over a much longer period of time than one often tends to assume, and then only as a matter of fact. Consequently, there is no real gain or profit in it for Russia. Turning to your own argument, I agree with you that Russian interest will make the most out of the Belarus economy. This is a matter of profit and a much easier way to run politics in the long run. Control may come through economic levers, as you yourself point to.

To sum up, I think your versions are very interesting and relevant, and much more thought through than mine. What I want to emphasise is the money factor - as in my previous comment. The Putinist élite is very much about control and profit with political benefits as a by-product. Balancing these factors is the art of executing power in Putin's Russia. This will affect Russia's policy towards Belarus as well, as I see it.

Yours,

Vilhelm

Pan Zavalnia said...

Dear Vilhelm,

I worry that the unification of Russia and Belarus can be seen as a way to the next presidency of Mr. Putin. He can be elected as an president of a common state if the unification will be happen. Strengthening of an authoritarianism in Russia and other issues show that Putin can think about it.

Russian regime repeats all steps of Belarusian one. They excluded
opposition from a politics process, took control over independent medias, Chodorkovsy's case cautioned businessmen against politics games. Why they can't repeat third presidency?

P.s. I've added your blog to my Favourite Blogs list: http://belarusianstory.blogspot.com/

Vilhelm Konnander said...

Dear Yahor,

I agree with you in your concern for a similar development in Russia as in Belarus, viz a third Putin presidency. However, I am not as convinced as you that this is the way it will end. Legally, time limits for constitutional changes have surpassed, even if this is not an insurmountable obstacle to changes. The core of the issue is instead, whether Putin would want to run for a third period. As far as I have been able to gather his mood, this is not the case. What I have learnt through my contacts is that Putin is taking less and less interest in his presidential obligations. Thus, he might only reconsider running for at third term if he is forced to by circumstances. In the meanwhile he is testing the viability of a variety of candidates for the presidency, e.g. Medvedev and Ivanov. In any case, it is questionable whether Putin or not Putin is the crucial issue as for Russian politics. As long as the Putinist élite accomplishes a peaceful succeesion from Putin to a candidate of their choice, Russian politics will continue in more or less the same direction as under Putin.

Finally, as for Russia's G8 presidency, I picked up an interesting piece on the "Russian corporatism" blog: http://russiancorporatism.blogspot.com/

Yours,

Vilhelm

Pan Zavalnia said...

Dear Vilhelm,

Thanks for The New Russian Corporatism link. I'm a newcomer of blogosphere and don't know this nice blog.

I am not convinced regarding Putin's third presidency. This is just another version of a furhter evolution. There is so strong vagueness in Russian politics for me and I can't be assured.


Yours,

Yahor

Pan Zavalnia said...

Dear Vilhelm,

Today 'Kommersant' writes exactly what we discussed some weeks ago about gas price increase as impulse for the unification of Russia and Belarus:
http://www.kommersant.ru/doc.html?docId=672553