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Political Trends in the New Eastern Europe: Ukraine and Belarus

Political Trends in the New Eastern Europe: Ukraine and Belarus - Cover

Authored by Dr. Arkady Moshes, Dr. Vitali Silitski.

July 2007

50 Pages

Brief Synopsis

This monograph contains two individual reports: Belarus and Russia: Comradeship-in-Arms in Preempting Democracy by Dr. Vitali Silitski and Ukraine: Domestic Changes and Foreign Policy Reconfiguration by Dr. Arkady Moshes. Belarus remains the last true dictatorship in Europe, and as such, its internal and external security agenda is an abiding matter of concern to the European and Western communities. But its trajectory is of equal concern to Moscow, which has been the prime external supporter and subsidizer of the Belarussian government under President Alyaksandr’ Lukashenka. But despite this support, tensions between Moscow and Minsk are growing. The brief energy cutoffs imposed by Moscow at the start of the year and Belarus’ retaliation shows that not all is well in that relationship. Not surprisingly, Lukashenka has now turned back to the West for foreign support, but it will not be forthcoming without significant domestic reform which is quite unlikely. Ukraine presents a different series of puzzles and challenges to Western leaders and audiences. It too has suffered from Russian energy coercion, but its political system is utterly different from Belarus and in a state of profound turmoil. Therefore, precise analysis of what has occurred and what is currently happening in Ukraine is essential to a correct understanding of trends there that can then inform sound policymaking.


For most of its existence as a newly-independent state in Eastern Europe, Belarus enjoyed a dubious reputation of being the continent’s last dictatorship. The regime established by the country’s president, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, has a solid domestic base. Nevertheless, the continuous political, economic, and diplomatic support provided to Lukashenka’s Belarus by its Eastern neighbor, the Russian Federation, greatly contributed to the overall stability and smoothness with which the Belarus leader accumulated power, institutionalized his autocratic rule, and fended off both internal and external challenges.

Belarus-Russia relations are often seen as the alliance dominated primarily by ideological rather than pragmatic reasons. This point of view is not completely adequate, though. Incumbents and political elites in both countries have considerations far broader than immediate material benefits for themselves, their budgets, and national economies. They constantly calculate and weigh a variety of political, social, economic, and cultural factors that ensure or threaten their political survival and stability of power. In this sense, the Belarus-Russia union has served the Kremlin under both Boris Yeltsin and Vladimir Putin and the official Minsk throughout the last decade. By pursuing an alliance with its Eastern neighbor, Lukashenka guaranteed economic advantages crucial for his unorthodox policy experiments and a cover-up on the international arena. By engaging with Lukashenka, the Yeltsin regime was able to minimize somewhat the political pressure exerted by Communists and ultranationalists, and to reestablish some credibility with military and bureaucratic elites who loathed disintegration of the Soviet Union. In spite of several highly-publicized brawls with Lukashenka, Putin’s administration generally continued this line, although more for geostrategic than purely political reasons.

In the last few years, pragmatism and ideology converged in Belarus-Russia relations under the influence of the wave of democratic revolutions that swept through the former Soviet Union in 2003-05. Paraphrasing the words of President George W. Bush, autocratic incumbents throughout the region came to understand that the survival of their own regimes greatly depended upon the preservation of autocracies beyond their borders. Ukraine’s Orange revolution in 2004, in particular, hastened the formation of an informal “authoritarian international” of former Soviet leaders who are eager to provide each other political, intellectual, and information support to reverse the wave of the democratic change. The Belarus-Russia union is rapidly becoming a core of this newly-emerging authoritarian international.

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