Leonid Radzikhovsky: “Lukashenko holds the All Belarusian People's Assembly not to resign”
The political expert on what awaits world leaders and their opponents in 2021
“Lukashenko is going to stay in power and fight to the end and is ready to apply very clever tricks to keep his power — he is not morally broken," political expert Leonid Radzikhovsky believes, commenting on the politician's plans to hold an All-Belarusian People's Assembly in a month. The journalist discusses what awaits world leaders, their teams and opponents in 2021 in the interview with Realnoe Vremya.
“What choice does the opposition have? An armed uprising? It's ridiculous”
Mr Radzikhovsky, one of the political figures that attracted attention in 2020 was Alexander Lukashenko. According to the opposition, he rigged the presidential election. There were thousands of peaceful protests and violent actions against the protesters, but Lukashenko never resigned. Can we say that he won the confrontation and will stay in power in 2021?
Lukashenko has announced that the All-Belarusian People's Assembly is going to be held in mid-February. But what it is, what status this event has, who will attend it and what rights its participants have, is unclear. And why it is held is also unclear.
But in any case, one thing is clear — Lukashenko is holding this meeting clearly not to resign: if he wanted to leave, then no meetings would be needed for this — he would get up and leave. From all this it follows that Lukashenko is going to stay in power and fight to the end and is ready to apply very clever tricks to preserve his power — he is not morally broken.
Then protests, as you know, dried up in Belarus, and the last Sunday of the year, on 27 December, there were no mass protests: protesters became convinced that their form of protest gave nothing but they has other form — the same strikes of enterprises shamelessly failed (although Tikhanovskaya announced strikes, but none of the major companies held strikes). So, peaceful protests don't work, strikes don't work, and what choice does the opposition have? An armed uprising? It's ridiculous — it's out of the question. It turns out that Lukashenko managed to take the situation in the country under control, which means that he will not leave in 2021.
But there is one “but” that makes the outlook uncertain — it is related to the economic situation: Lukashenko lived off handouts from Russia, and if these handouts stop, how will he live? Well, they will not collect debts from him, since they were spread over a period of time, but Lukashenko does not need installments of debts but constant injections — free oil that he resells at an exorbitant price abroad, some loans. And if Russia, despite the difficult situation with its own economy, continues to “feed” Lukashenko, then he will one hundred per cent hold the presidential post. If Russia, that is, Putin, says: “Enough! We don't have enough ourselves, and why are we dragging this freeloader by the mustache? No, he will not get anything from us," then it is unknown how Lukashenko will get out of it — the standard of living in Belarus will fall in this case.
So, peaceful protests don't work, strikes don't work, and what choice does the opposition have?
Certainly, even in this situation, Lukashenko has a way out — a drop in living standards does not mean an automatic fall of the regime. An example is Venezuela, where people live very poorly, but Maduro is still in power, so there is some money in the country. Yes, the first column of budget expenditures will go to the KGB and the ministry of internal affairs, the second — to officials, the third — to the army, the fourth — to pensioners, and the fifth — to everyone else. Besides, Lukashenko is opening the borders wide to leave — if you do not like something, get out of the country. And, as we can see, the Belarusian high-tech is shrinking — people are fleeing to Poland, Lithuania, Ukraine, where they are willingly accepted. Yes, Lukashenko thereby is destroying the intellectual superstructure and the future of his unfortunate country — he is destroying it for the sake of preserving his power, and besides — the fewer people, the more oxygen.
Well, what about pensioners... is there gas? There is! Is there water? There are! Are there potatoes? There are! There is bread. So, what's the problem? Lukashenko may well sit for another year on such a falling curve of Belarusian sentiment. But, as you understand, any surprises are possible in a year, and I am not able to foresee them.
So you do not rule out that in the spring or summer of 2021 there may be a new wave of protests?
It may, if they kill someone.
But Belarusian media reported that four or five people were killed during the protests in the summer and autumn of 2020.
It is not necessary to exaggerate about the death of some people — since August there have been protests in Belarus, but even at this moment, it is not so easy to determine how three or four people died during this time. The death of people is when a crowd is shot, as happened on the Maidan in Kiev in February 2014. In Ukraine, the public still does not know who and why then shot at people. But, nevertheless, there were dead people in the crowd, and there were a lot of them. But when they say that someone was killed (or maybe not killed, but the death occurred in a different way) during the detention, this is not exactly within the framework of opposition PR, if you want.
The corpse of the deceased is a corpse thrown at the feet of the crowd. But a corpse in the backyard, the corpse of a man who died from something unknown, looks very ugly, shameless and ruthless for the opposition PR and for the opposition press of Belarus.
“Putin supports Lukashenko out of fear of a bad example, that the people can remove the dictator”
What about the conclusion of some experts on the constitutional reform promised by Lukashenko in exchange for Moscow's financial assistance following the meeting with Putin in September? People are deceived into thinking that Lukashenko promised reform and his resignation after the adoption of the new constitution in 2021?
People just mistake the wish for the reality. While Lukashenko is in power, he is in power, and when he leaves, he will leave, and there is no middle ground: Lukashenko will not have a little power because this is not the right person, not the right system, not the right psychology to share power.
Yes, all sorts of decorations are possible there, because Lukashenko can confuse the matter. And Lukashenko cannot really give up half of his power, just as he cannot give up half of his body. Well, he can expand the powers of the country's parliament on paper, but this will be the parliament that will be appointed only by Lukashenko himself.
As for that Moscow is “squeezing” Lukashenko, I do not think that it is true. Why does Moscow need it? What happiness does this bring to Moscow? Let's ask ourselves the question — why does Putin support Lukashenko at all? As you know, Putin can't stand Lukashenko, as well as Lukashenko — Putin. They have disgusting both personal and political relations because scandals constantly arise between the countries, Lukashenko constantly demands something, yells that he was not given something in Russia, and this can not but irritate a person like Putin. But, nevertheless, Putin supports Lukashenko. Why? The answer is obvious: first, out of fear of a bad example that the Russian population may “get infected” — it may well see and make sure that the people can remove the dictator, and people like Putin and Lukashenko have corporate solidarity.
Putin needs a completely dependent person on the post of the president of Belarus, and Belarus should be a vassal country
And the second point, which is not mentioned by official Russian television — is that Putin needs an absolutely dependent person as the Belarusian president, and Belarus should be a vassal country. Although I do not understand why Russia needs this vassal, who only does that sucks oil. Nevertheless, it is probably necessary to show that we, Russia, are a superpower. But this is no longer the case — does anyone in Central Asia or Transcaucasia respect us, except for Armenia?
But Russia wants to pose as a superpower, and what is needed for this? Two things — to fight with the Americans and have a vassal, but Russia has no other vassals except for Belarus. Of course, another president of Belarus can also be a vassal, but this is a complicated story — maybe he will be such, or maybe he will lean towards the West. And Lukashenko has nowhere to lean to — he has torn the Western vector from himself, China is not particularly interested in it, which means that Lukashenko is a vassal of Russia.
“Pashinyan managed to gain a foothold — he has a chance to stay”
In November, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan signed a peace agreement in Nagorno-Karabakh. Armenia has returned a number of territories to Azerbaijan, the opposition accuses Pashinyan of betrayal, capitulation and has been demanding his resignation for months. Will Pashinyan survive after the parliamentary elections? After all, the critical mass of citizens who are in favour of his resignation is not visible on the streets of Armenia.
The situation here is more difficult than in Belarus, but I believe that if during the most acute period — during the defeat of Armenia in Karabakh — nothing was done with Pashinyan inside the country, and he managed to gain a foothold, then I think that he has a chance to stay — although not as big as Lukashenko, but he has. Again, here much will depend on Russia, as before. But despite the “demshizoid cry” that Putin cannot forgive the freedom-loving Pashinyan for coming to power as a result of a popular movement, this did not happen. Yes, we have heard opinions that Putin deliberately did a lot in the Karabakh story so that Pashinyan stumbled and flew out, but this has nothing to do with reality — Armenia really lost the war in Karabakh. And, as Putin's Press Secretary Peskov said, Russia supports Mr. Pashinyan and does not believe that at such a moment in Armenia it is necessary to change the leader. Here is a “conspiracy theory”.
And I think that if Russia does not continue to do something against Pashinyan, he will remain in power — yes, he lost the war, but Saakashvili also lost the 2008 war, but he stayed in office for another 4 years.
Yes, so far I have seen a video that crowds of people, some big men, were gathering on the streets of Yerevan. But these men are clearly not like the people who shed blood in the trenches of Karabakh and returned from the trenches — they are more like ordinary street criers. And of course, it is easy and natural for such people and others to blame the country's leaders. But it is completely unclear what Pashinyan could have done that he did not do. Of course, after losing wars, leaders sometimes leave, sometimes they don't — like the aforementioned Saakashvili or like Egyptian President Nasser, whose army was literally wiped out by Israel in 1967. Nasser remained at the post and no one said anything to him, although he was one hundred percent to blame for this defeat. Defeat in a war means nothing to a politician.
If during the most acute period — during the defeat of Armenia in Karabakh — nothing was done with Pashinyan inside the country, and he managed to catch his feet on a chair, then I think that he has a chance to stay
“I don't think that anything will change in relations between Russia and the United States under Biden”
Is everything clear in Joe Biden's actions in the Russian direction? Some experts express cautious optimism, for example, Americanist Boris Kalyagin in an interview with Realnoe Vremya said that if Biden was one of the authors of the reset of relations between the two countries in 2009, then this may mean some new initiatives to improve relations. At the same time, pessimistic remarks are heard, saying that warming in relations with the United States should not be expected. Do you understand Biden or is he a black box at the moment?
Biden is a transparent box: he has been in public politics all his life and he does not hide his views. However, it is unclear in what physical form he is: they say that he is a “wreck”, and Biden's opponents scare each other with the future vice president Kamala Harris, who will rule the country, in their opinion, but everything is in the competence of Biden's doctors.
I don't think that anything will change in relations between Russia and the United States under Biden. What can possibly change? Let's focus on two important aspects of this relationship — the military clash and the lifting of sanctions. Both are basically impossible, so we put aside these aspects and look at what remains in between. Will there be fluctuations in the size of sanctions? Well, there will be, well, personal sanctions will be announced, for example, against businessman Kovalchuk, who is close to power — and what will happen? Nothing.
As for the Nord Stream 2 ,you see, the economy has gone into the background in this issue, and in the foreground — competing in ambitions. I do not think that the US will be able to disrupt the launch of the gas pipeline under Biden with their sanctions — not because Russia is so great and strong, but because there are also Germans, and it is very profitable for Germany to have this flow. Besides, it is humiliating for the Germans that the Americans dictate to them from whom and how much gas they buy. Therefore, the gas pipeline will be completed.
Will Russia be disconnected from the SWIFT payment system under Biden? No, this will not happen — it is financially unprofitable for the Americans themselves, and the entire global financial system is not in a situation to take and disconnect the country from this system. Will the Biden administration's efforts bring down the price of oil? Oil prices are not determined by the United States — no one has been determining them for a long time, and it is generally unclear what really determines — OPEC agreements or other things, but not the United States. An arms race? This is possible, although the US have significantly reduced their spending on weapons in recent years — we do not usually talk about this on federal channels, but anyone who wants to will find data on this on the Internet. This means that Biden will continue to reduce these costs, as this is the usual policy of the Democrats — especially since it is obvious to everyone what a difficult situation the United States is being in. And this whole arms race is a stupid game: it was vital in the 1960s and important in the 1970s, but now it's an anecdote, an absurdity — why burn a lot of money? Therefore, there will not be a large volume in the arms race — the United States for sure.
Biden's problems are least of all the problems of Russia, and if they say the opposite, it is only a propaganda fake: Russia does not interfere with the US in any way, and absolute nonsense if you hear that it is the topic of Russia that determines the domestic political situation in the US. This is the same as believing that our oppositionists are all CIA agents. For the US, the main problem is the problem of competition with China, and this is what Biden is likely to deal with in 2021
In 2011, Biden said that Putin should not run for a new presidential term. Knowing how the US Democrats favour the opposition in those countries where leaders who are inconvenient to Americans are in power, can we assume that Navalny's person will be on Biden's agenda throughout 2021 in his rhetoric in relations with Russia?
Yes, this topic will be there, but what will it matter for the relations between the two countries? It will be a PR war — it will definitely continue, because it is too profitable for both sides to refuse, because it costs nothing, it is free, it distracts and entertains politicians, so it will be.
Biden's problems are least of all the problems of Russia, and if they say the opposite, it is only a propaganda fake: Russia does not interfere with the US in any way, and absolute nonsense if you hear that it is the topic of Russia that determines the domestic political situation in the US. This is the same as believing that our oppositionists are all CIA agents
“Inside the country, everything is not so rosy for Erdogan”
Should we expect further influence on the processes in the foreign arena from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan? After all, victory in Azerbaijan is also considered a success for Turkey and its leader.
There are a lot of PR mergers, PR noise from Erdogan, but this noise is external, and inside the country everything is not so rosy for Erdogan: in Turkey, as we are told, their monetary currency lira has collapsed as much as possible, economic development, which was rapid in the country, has now stalled. Besides, they have been hit hard by the coronavirus — in Turkey, the maximum number of infected in the Middle East. In addition, unlike Ruhollah Khomeini — the spiritual leader of Iran, no matter how Erdogan stomped his feet, he runs a democratic, not authoritarian country — there is an opposition in Turkey and it is not at all enthusiastic about his exploits.
Yes, Erdogan has managed to quarrel with everyone with whom he can, and even with Russia he has far from perfect relations, although Putin flatters him, and Erdogan flatters Putin, but this is not surprising — Erdogan is a man with the ambitions of a retired sultan. Yes, Erdogan has made progress, but so far this is purely PR matters, nothing more.
“It's scary to talk about China, it's unpleasant to talk about Turkey, but we will criticise NATO and the West — it's safe”
What steps can be expected from Vladimir Putin in foreign policy? Experts have not seen any serious diplomatic successes of Russia for a long time. Does it turn out that the head of state will be reduced to anti-Western rhetoric in the external direction?
Such rhetoric will continue — Vladimir Putin holds on to it, however, and the West holds on to anti-Russian rhetoric. But Putin needs this rhetoric more because if our TV stops it, the propagandists have nothing to say, Solovyov, Skobeeva, Simonyan will just be silent — there is “no” internal policy for the Kremlin, and even the very good propaganda theme of the opposition as CIA agents won't need to be inflated very much — there need subtlest calculation, as we need a fine calculation when talking about the opposition in general. Of course, they can say it is pathetic and helpless, but they can't say much either, otherwise how pathetic is it?
Therefore, in 2021, the Kremlin and propagandists will continue to talk about the West, Ukraine, the United States, and NATO. Well, it's not about China to talk to them — it's scary, about Turkey — it's unpleasant, but criticising NATO and the West as a whole — it's safe.