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In response to the protests regarding the Belarusian presidential election, Lukashenko in early September pondered the possibility of a referendum on Belarus joining the Russian Federation.

Suppose the referendum takes place. If, according to the official end result (whether obtained in a free and fair way or not), the majority is against the accession, then presumably nothing would change, and it is likely not the result he is aiming for.

If, however, the result is in favor of joining Russia, it is unlikely that Vladimir Putin will then relinquish his post and appoint Lukashenko as his successor. Lukashenko would, in the best (for him) scenario go from being head of a sovereign state to the head of a federal subject of Russia—effectively he would relinquish power.

So what would he gain from a referendum? The only benefit I see is this: in a sovereign Belarus, there is a real chance that the protesters eventually overthrow him and he ends up facing criminal charges by a Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya led new government led by his opponents. On the other hand, Russia recognizes him as the legitimately elected president of Belarus, and under Russian law, even if retroactively applied to Belarus, he likely has not committed any crime. Furthermore, if Belarus becomes part of Russia, he might be able to count on Russian support against any further protests.

Therefore, is the proposed referendum essentially a concession by Lukashenko that he knows he eventually cannot win this fight, and is just trying to save his behind? Or could there be other motives behind it?

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    Where in the world is that name spelled Łukašenka? – Bernhard Döbler Sep 13 at 0:41
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    @BernhardDöbler Maybe in Łacinka. – Rodrigo de Azevedo Sep 13 at 0:58
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    Why the vote to close this as opinion-based? The suggestion is then to update the question so it can be answered with facts rather than opinions, how would I do that? – user149408 Sep 13 at 9:27
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    Looked much cooler in Łacinka... – Rodrigo de Azevedo Sep 18 at 18:03
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    Again, why the vote to close for not meeting Politics SE guidelines, presumably the one about internal motivation of people? I’m not asking about internal motivation, but what he would stand to gain from a specific scenario. – user149408 Sep 18 at 20:12
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TLDR: Lukashenko technically gains nothing directly from this - it is Russia's desire to reinvigorate and speed up Union State plan. What Lukashenko is really interested in is what he gets in exchange: he would gain reassurance that Russia will continue firmly backing him up in face of dramatically increased Western pressure and insure his own future as important man of big enough power.

Back in 1996 Belorussia and Russia founded the Commonwealth that later evolved into Union State. Initially Lukasheko was more interested in the project: several reforms he undertook in Belorussia to revert some consequences of USSR disintegration disaster boosted his popularity in Russia as well, giving him much better statesman image than Yeltsin who was seen too drunk too often and following Western demands disadvantageous to Russia too much. Lukashenko hoped that with reintegration he would easily win over Yeltsin in presidential election of reintegrated Union State.

Since rise of Putin, Lukashenko lost much of interest, since Putin himself undertook many similar reforms in Russia and gained even better popular support, thus making election of Lukashenko unlikely. Some of union measures were implemented, but many other were either severely slowed down or pretty much suspended.

OTOH, Russian government maintained strong interest in reintegrating what has been a part of Russia most of the time back since Kievan Rus period and firmly under Russian control since 16th century.

Since then in bid to maintain his undisputed power over Belorussia, Lukashenko undertook so-called "bohatovektornost' policy" (бохатовекторность - literally "multi-vector") - he supported Russian policy only as much as needed and stalled union process as much as he could without pissing off Russia way too much and losing union's customs and trade preferences and big discounts on Russian raw materials. At same time he was dealing with the West, using veiled threats of aligning with one of the sides as bargaining chip to milk preferences from both.

This all worked well enough for him until recent events, which he understood as a clear message "you've outlived your usefulness" from the West. Russia acknowledged his well founded fears and now sees to persuade him in proceeding with union plan. While we probably won't see any details of deal he was offered until it is implemented, he's probably got promises of full support in his current presidential role and then, as reintegration takes place, a transition to important enough seat somewhere in Security Council or something similar.

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