Show an ad over header. AMP

Belarus protests: Shaken strongman Lukashenko turns to Putin

The man who has ruled Belarus for 26 years growled today that protesters demanding new elections would have to kill him first, while his would-be successor announced she was prepared to take charge.

Why it matters: Aleksandr Lukashenko has never before appeared so weak — but he still has a fearsome security apparatus behind him, and a global power watching from the east.


Driving the news: Streets across the country were flooded with protesters over the weekend, while workers at Belarus’ state-owned enterprises and state TV network — two pillars of Lukashenko’s support — have now joined strikes.

  • “Come, sit down, we’ll work on the constitution,” Lukashenko told factory workers today. “Yes, I'm no saint. You know I can be tough, but you know that if there was no toughness, there wouldn’t be a country.”
  • When they drowned him out, shouting for new elections, he turned icy: “We held elections. Until you kill me, there will be no other elections.”
  • Meanwhile opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who fled to Lithuania after the vote, released a YouTube video saying she now was prepared to step in, release all detained protesters, and hold “real, honest, and transparent elections.”

What to watch: Lukashenko has utterly failed to reassert control in the eight days since he claimed a preposterous 80% of the presidential vote. What happens next may thus depend on another strongman: Russia’s Vladimir Putin.

  • Lukashenko has appealed for Putin’s help, though their relationship had recently grown frosty as he resisted Putin’s push for a Russia-Belarus political union and arrested Russian mercenaries in a bizarre pre-election incident.

Between the lines: “The Kremlin is not wedded to Lukashenko: it has had enough of him,” writes Carnegie Moscow’s Dmitri Trenin.

  • “It cannot, however, allow Belarus to follow the path of Ukraine and become another anti-Russian, NATO-leaning bulwark on its borders.”
  • With Lukashenko’s legitimacy now “gone forever,” Trenin contends, Russia’s best option is to convince him to step aside and “manage a transfer of power” that secures its interests.

What to watch: “At present, this is a wholly anti-Lukashenko movement, with no anti-Russian dimension, nor even an explicitly pro-Western one,” notes Russia analyst Mark Galeotti.

  • Direct Russian action, particularly on behalf of Lukashenko, could change that.
  • What Putin needs most are loyalty and stability from a country that sits on Russia's border and in its sphere of influence. His priority may thus be to secure his influence in a post-Lukashenko Belarus.

What to watch: “My pessimistic point of view is that Russia will get involved," Lena Smirnova, a Belarusian who relocated to Baltimore in 2012, told Axios. "That Lukashenko will go, but it won’t be beneficial for Belarus. This is the worst-case scenario.”

Smirnova was part of a small but enthusiastic group of protesters gathered outside the Belarusian Embassy in Washington on Sunday.

Protesting outside the embassy. Photo: Camila Sgrignoli Januario
  • She expressed confidence that Lukashenko's days were numbered but concern about what would come next.
  • “We hope that he will go but we will maintain independence," she said. "That someone else will come and we will have democratic elections without Lukashenko, and we will move forward with the Western world."
  • Smirnova said her fellow Belarusians should be aware that “when he goes, it will be hard. It will be worse probably, in the short term, because the economy will struggle for a while until it rebuilds again."

Alesya Semukha-Greenberg, a fellow Minsk native who has lived in the U.S. since 1995, said the peace and economic stability of the Lukashenko years had once satisfied Belarusians, "but a time of peace in prison has its limits.”

  • “I have a lot of friends and relatives in Minsk, and I’ve been asking them, ‘why now?’" she said.
  • First, she was told, came Lukashenko's indifference and ineffectiveness in the face of the pandemic. Then came the "disrespectful and unbearable" election charade. "People felt their dignity was totally ignored," she said.
  • “The brutality of the police just brought more people on the street," Semukha-Greenberg continued. "It was just like a gang on the streets of Minsk.”
  • She hopes the European Union will pressure Lukashenko to "end the bloodshed" and step aside, allowing Belarus to "go through the struggle of building the democracy."

The bottom line: "It’s not going to be easy, but it's the only way," she said. "26 years of this prison is long enough.”

How the Oracle-TikTok deal would work

An agreement between TikTok's Chinese owner ByteDance and Oracle includes a variety of concessions in an effort to make the deal palatable to the Trump administration and security hawks in Congress, according to a source close to the companies.

The big picture: The deal, in the form of a 20-page term sheet agreed to in principle by the companies, would give Oracle unprecedented access and control over user data as well as other measures designed to ensure that Americans' data is protected, according to the source.

Keep reading... Show less

The European Union may soon get its own Magnitsky Act to target human rights abusers

Amid a global assaulton human rights stretching from Belarus to Hong Kong to Yemen, the European Union signaled yesterday that it may act to deter corrupt kleptocrats and state abusers by hitting them where it hurts: their assets.

Driving the news: Europe's chief executive Ursula von der Leyen revealed in her first-ever State of the Union speech that she will bring forth a European Magnitsky Act, a sanctions framework modeled after a U.S. law that restricts malign actors' access to travel and the global financial system.

Keep reading... Show less

Cancer death rates are dropping but Black Americans still face highest risk

Adapted from the National Cancer Institute; Chart: Naema Ahmed/Axios 

There's some good news in 2020: Cancer death rates have been falling overall, and the gap between racial and ethnic groups has been narrowing.

Yes, but: Decades of systemic racism and the structures developed under it continue to limit the ability of Americans to benefit equally from cancer advances, some medical experts tell Axios, as seen by Black Americans who've had the highest death rate from cancer for 40 years. And the pandemic is expected to exacerbate the problem further.

Keep reading... Show less

WHO: Health care workers account for around 14% of coronavirus cases

Though health workers represent less than 3% of the population in many countries, they account for around 14% coronavirus cases reported to the World Health Organization, the organization announced Thursday.

Why it matters: The WHO called on governments and health care leaders to address threats facing the health and safety of these workers, adding that the pandemic has highlighted how protecting them is needed to ensure a functioning health care system.

Keep reading... Show less

Trump says he will sign executive order on "patriotic education" in rebuke of 1619 project

President Trump said he would sign an executive order on Thursday to "promote patriotic education" through an effort called the 1776 Commission, while denouncing a New York Times' project that investigated the impacts of racial injustice for Black Americans.

The big picture: The 1619 project dug into the personal histories of Black Americans in the U.S. who have faced present-day systematic inequality in housing and farming, as well as how the legacy of slavery altered health care access for Black Americans and fueled the country's early economy.

Keep reading... Show less

Podcast: Amazon exec on the company's Climate Pledge Fund

Amazon on Thursday announced the first companies to receive money from a $2 billion venture capital fund it formed to help combat climate change.

Axios Re:Cap digs into how Amazon hopes the fund will help achieve its goal of being carbon neutral by 2040, and whether the plan is more substance than spin, with Matt Peterson, Amazon's director of new initiatives and corporate development.

Air quality in American West among the worst in the world

The air quality in Portland has become the worst in the world — with Seattle, Los Angeles and Denver also ranking up there with notoriously polluted places like Delhi and Shanghai.

Why it matters: Big-city residents often consider themselves smugly immune to the physical wreckage of calamities like wildfires, floods and hurricanes. The pernicious smoke now blanketing the splendid cities of our nation's Western spine is a reminder that no one is exempt from climate change.

Keep reading... Show less

FBI director confirms "very, very active" Russian efforts to interfere in election

FBI Director Chris Wray on Thursday told Congress the bureau has seen "very active efforts by the Russians to influence our elections in 2020," primarily to "denigrate Vice President Biden and what the Russians see as kind of an anti-Russian establishment."

Why it matters: It confirms previous previous statements from various intelligence officials about Russia's interference activities, which continue with less than 50 days until the election.

Keep reading... Show less

Insights

mail-copy

Get Goodhumans in your inbox

Most Read

More Stories