The Belarusian government has moved to release thousands of detainees in an attempt to quell the growing number of protests around the nation in the aftermath of President Alexander Lukashenko’s contested reelection. The mass release is a relief-valve move that Belarusian leadership is hoping will bring peace back to the streets of Minsk and other cities around the country. For Lukashenko, the first major challenge to his rule shows no signs of going away anytime soon, releases or not.
Tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets on Thursday, calling for new elections, and for Lukashenko to just ‘go away.’ Lukashenko is accused of rigging last Sunday’s election to win his sixth consecutive term as the Belarusian president. He has dismissed the demonstrators as being of a criminal element, and accusing them of being part of a foreign-supported operation to destabilize the country.
The election, and subsequent protests and mass incarcerations come at a time when Belarus is attempting to forge better relations with the West. Ties with traditional ally Russia have become strained in the last few years. Lukashenko has resisted accepting deeper political, and economic ties with Russia. Moscow responded by becoming more coercive in its dealing with the Belarusian government.
There are significant similarities between what’s happening in Belarus now and the events leading up to Euromaidan Ukraine in 2013-2014. Needless to say, many people are looking at Belarus now and wondering if a Minsk Summer could be in the cards soon. Perhaps. However, along with some striking similarities, there are major differences between Ukraine in 2013-14 and Belarus at the present. This weekend we’ll examine Belarus closer.
Before that, expect an update post on the Eastern Med tomorrow or Saturday.