Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Window on Eurasia: Experts Assess Reliability of Lukashenka’s Last Line of Defense

Paul Goble

Huntsville, March 2 – It is a measure of the fragility or presumed fragility of the hold some post-Soviet leaders now have on power that the analytic community in Moscow is beginning to ask not only whether they will be challenged by popular uprisings but also whether they have the resources to resist such challenges.

Recent events in Arab countries show that in countries lacking “the broad development of democratic institutions and civil society,” Nikolay Radov, an analyst of Belarusian affairs says, “the law enforcement organs and militarized parts [of the regime] play the main role in what is taking place” (

For Alyaksandr Lukashenka and his regime, the analyst continues, “force resources also play a first order role,” far eclipsing “the ideological” in ensuring that the current powers that be in Minsk remain in power. Consequently, it is worth asking “whether Lukashenka can count on the Belarusian militia and army in the case of the destabilization of the situation [there].”

Radov concludes that “at present, the Belarusian army and the organs of the MVD and KGB represent the most real foundation of the political regime of Lukashenka” and that the officers in these agencies are prepared to “help” the Belarusian president turn his country into something worse “than Kosovo or Chechnya” if he is threatened.

But because such institutions can and in the case of Arab countries have changed sides, Radov provides a more detailed survey of these and other “force structures” in Lukashenka’s Belarus. The militia, whose ranks makeup approximately one percent of the country’s population, enjoys not a bad reputation among the people but not the opposition.

Lukashenka appears to be relatively satisfied with them and they with him, but he has criticized them, something Radov says is part of his effort to boost his standing with the people. But in fact, he concludes, the Belarusian leader makes these remarks in order to ensure the loyalty of the MVD ranks as “one of the main defenders of the regime.”
According to Radov, “in the opinion of many exper4ts, over the last several years, the main enemy of the Belarusian militia besides thieves and murderers is the opposition, the activists of which are kept” under constant monitoring and threat of arrest by the militia and other organs.
The Belarusian army is well financed, its officers are well paid, and those serving in it are proud of their uniforms, Radov says. And Lukashenka has announced plans to boost their benefits further, a possible indication that he sees the military as a group he must treat well in order to ensure its loyalty to his person.
Lukashenka has spoken openly about the army being the last line of defense. If the situation developed so that the regime would be threatened, he has declared “I would not stop before using the Armed Forces.” In short, “the main assignment of the army of Belarus is armed struggle with its own people.”

Finally, Radov considers the Belarusian KGB. A decade ago, there were obvious tensions between Lukashenka and this security agency, but over the last several years, these appear to have been overcome with the KGB getting many of the things it wants via new and invasive legislation.

Indeed, Radov concludes, “the events which took place after December 19, 2010 [when the elections took place in Belarus] are convincing evidence that the organs of the KGB have passed completely under the leadership of Lukashenka and have been converted into a weapon of the regime.”

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