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Macron “mediator” of the Belarusian crisis

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After Lebanon, French President Emmanuel Macron aspires to become the “mediator” of the Belarusian crisis. However, he has already taken a stand against President Alexander Lukashenko in an interview with the French weekly Le Journal du Dimanche on 28 September 2020, and in favour of his opponent Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, whom he encountered in Vilnius the following day.

Going still further, the party of the president, La République en Marche, invited his rival to address the French National Assembly, which she accepted.

It may be recalled that the policies embodied by President Lukashenko enjoy the approval of the overwhelming majority of his fellow citizens, while his methods are strongly criticized by those who identify with the opposition.

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The Last Stalinist of the Soviet Union

By David William Pear

President of the Republic of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko
(Photo by Belarus president homepage)

In 2005 Belarus President Aleksandr Lukashenko was dubbed “the last dictator in Europe” by President George W. Bush’s Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. The name has stuck in the West. The U.S. foreign policy establishments pretend that “dictator” is a dirty word to them. They actually only use it for propaganda purposes.

The U.S. has a long history of cozying up to and backing dictators. The U.S. backed the fascist dictator Francisco Franco from the 1936 Spanish Civil War until 1973. Prominent U.S. politicians and corporations helped Hitler rise to power in 1934 and rebuild Germany’s military. The U.S. supported the corrupt Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines from 1965 until 1986; Suharto in Indonesia from 1968 until 1998; Hosni Mubarak in Egypt from 1981 until 2011; and the U.S. continues to support dozens of right-wing and fascistic criminal dictators and archaic evil monarchies today, such as Saudi Arabia.

US presidents from Franklin Delano Roosevelt to Richard Nixon said about Nicaragua’s fascistic dictator Anastasio Somoza, “he is a son of a bitch, but he is our son of a bitch”. The only problem that the US has with Belarus’s Lukashenko is that he is not the U.S.’s bitch.

Lukashenko is a tough Stalinist. A better nom de plume for Lukashenko would be The Last Stalinist of the Soviet Union. Even his secret service is still called the KGB (Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti). Most Belarusians support him, as was shown by the majority vote he received in the August 9, 2020 elections. He clearly won the election. Stephen Lendman and many others in the alternative media have written about it. His opponent Svetlana Tikhanouskaya is no Joan of Arc as portrayed by Western propaganda. Just like Juan Guaidó is not the president of Venezuela.

Belorussia was the smallest republic of the former Soviet Union, with less than 10 million people. Translated, Belorussia means “White Russia”. That is not the same as the White Russians who opposed the 1917 “Red” Bolshevik revolution.

Those anti-revolutionary White Russians of 1917 were mostly Cossacks who enjoyed a very privileged position in Tsarist Russia. Cossacks were borderland defenders of Russia in Ukraine and the Caucasus Mountains. The Tsars gave them titles as dukes and duchesses, and gave them their own land. Few Americans know the history of the U.S. invasion of Russia from 1918 to 1925 on the side of the White Russians. Almost every Russian does though.

Belorussia took its “whiteness” from its historical narrative of not having been successfully invaded by the Mongol Empire in the 13th century, unlike Russia and Ukraine. Belorussia was protected on the east by dense swampy forests. A misstep by would-be invaders found themselves sinking in the swampy quicksand. Belorussian defenders knew the swampy forests like the palm of their hands. The Germans learned that the hard way from Belorussian partisans who raised havoc from behind the Nazi lines during World War 2. After the breakup of the Soviet Union, Belorussia became an independent country, and officially changed its name to the Republic of Belarus.

Lukashenko was first elected president of Belarus in 1994, before Putin was elected the president of Russia in 1999. Belarus is a small country, which is poor in natural resources. Lukashenko has been a thorn in Putin’s side for years, because of his constant nagging for ever more subsidies and lower prices for natural gas from Russia. What Belarus lacks in natural resources it makes up for in agriculture, beef, manufacturing and technology. Belarusians enjoy socialist healthcare, education and modern infrastructure. Russia is its main trading partner, and Germany is its second largest.

Putin complains that Lukashenko has had his butt in two chairs for decades. Lukashenko has half his butt in Europe. He uses Belarus’s strategic location for NATO as a bargaining chip to squeeze Putin for subsidies and other concessions. The U.S. has become tired of playing footsie with Lukashenko. The U.S. wants Belarus as another puppet vassal to encircle Russia, just as the U.S. has done with the former Yugoslavia, Poland, the Baltics, Ukraine, Georgia, and elsewhere. The U.S. has ham-handedly overplayed its hand with Lukashenko by using the 2020 election to try to stir up a color revolutions.

Belarus’s border with Russia is only a few hundred miles from Moscow. The American people have no national interests in Belarus, but for Russia it could be a NATO dagger pointing at its heart. For that reason, Putin has let Lukashenko swing for the last month in order to teach him a lesson that playing footsie with NATO could end up with him hanging from a street lamp, with a U.S. noose around his neck. Putin has played his hand well, and now he has Lukashenko’s full attention and loyalty.

Lukashenko met with Putin in Sochi, Russia on September 14th in a long-planned meeting of the Eurasian Economic Union, as well as a meeting of the states of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, and the Commonwealth of Independent States. Lukashenko can no longer twist Putin’s wrist for more subsidies.

Putin looked in control in the meeting at Sochi. He announced his concessions to Lukashenko. Lukashenko tried to look strong as he ate humble pie from his “big brother”. On Belarus’s homepage Lukashenko is quoted as telling Putin:

“The economy is the basis for everything. Trust me, we have always pursued this course. Some recent events have shown that we should stay closer to our elder brother and cooperate in all fields, including in economy.”

In the video below Lukashenko listens respectfully to Putin’s concessions without interrupting. He even pretends to take a few notes:

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Putin Meets Lukashenko: Russia Remains Committed To Union State Treaty; Belarus Is Our Closest Ally

Notice the difference in the demeanor of the two men from the heated exchange that took place less than two years ago. Lukashenko overplayed his hand as usual. He demanded more natural gas subsidies. He even referred to Russia as Belarus’s main rival, as well as its partner. He ended up apologizing.

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HEATED DISCUSSION! Lukashenko Argues With Putin About Gas Prices And Apologises Afterwards!

As an American, I have been looking at Russia from the inside for over twenty years [see my 2020 interview with Jeff Brown on China Rising]. I will try to give some insights from my perspective.

Everyone should know that since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1992, the U.S. has been encircling, expanding NATO, and chopping away at Russia’s borderlands. For example, President Bill Clinton’s illegal war against Yugoslavia. It was a U.S. war crime and a crime against humanity. You can read about it from the Guardian (2007), when the Guardian still had reliable journalistic standards.

The illegal U.S./NATO aggression against Yugoslavia was a replay of the 1980’s terrorist mujahideen in Afghanistan against the USSR. The purpose of the war against Yugoslavia was to break up one of the last socialist countries of the former Soviet Union, exploit it as capitalist wantonly do, and to carve out Kosovo as the largest U.S. military base in Europe, Camp Bondsteel.

[Photo: Camp Bondsteel, Kosovo from Wikipedia]

The destruction of Yugoslavia was finalized earlier this month. Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vučić was seated like a school child at a tiny desk next to his “teacher” in Washington. President Donald Trump towered over him at his imperial desk in the Oval Office. Vučić was there to receive Serbia’s documents of defeat. Like a dunce Vučić signed it. It is apparent, as you can see from the video below, that Vučić did not even know the final terms of his surrender to the U.S.

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Trump puzzles Serbia’s President Vucic

Everyone should also know about the U.S. 2014 illegal coup in Ukraine. The U.S. was behind a European Union bait-and-switch offer to Ukraine for eventual membership in the EU. Ukraine was suffering under economic hardships, and the U.S. and EU put stars in the eyes of the Ukrainian people. The psy-op had the Ukrainian people dreaming of a future prosperity, being Europeanized and eventually becoming NATO members.

The terms that the EU ended up offering to Ukraine were so deceitful that no Ukrainian president, no matter how corrupt, could accept them. The result was the U.S.-choreographed, the “f*ck the E.U.”, Euromaidan color revolution. U.S. meddling has resulted in thousands of deaths, chaos, and the lives of ordinary Ukrainians has been the worse for it. The corruption has just changed hands to U.S. profiteers.

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Nuland-Pyatt leaked phone conversation _COMPLETE with SUBTITLES

The eastern Ukrainian people wanted no part in the coup. The U.S. backed a fascist and corrupt coup government in Ukraine, which wanted to ethnically cleanse eastern Ukraine of its Russian ethnicity. It is another shameful episode in U.S. history, which Western propaganda frames as “Russian aggression”.

Russia, Ukraine and Belarus have a common history that goes back thousands of years. Many armies and empires have marched over their lands from the north, south, east and west. The narrative story of the Slavic people goes back before written history. Russia, Ukraine and Belarus each have their own narrative.

According to Ukraine, the Slavic people originated in Kyivan Rus with the capital in today’s Kiev, Ukraine. Belarus has its own rendition of history, with the Slavic people originating from the north and migrating south and east. According to Russia the Slavic people began thousands of years ago in the east and migrated west.

Ukraine, Belarus and Russia have had a sibling rivalry for centuries. Today, Russia is the unquestioned “big brother”, but not necessarily loved, often resented and even hated by its brothers. Still brothers they are. There is nothing the U.S. foreign policy neocons love more than a family feud, so that they can worm into the middle of it to divide, conquer and pillage the family jewels. It is the classic playbook of colonialism.

During the 16th and 17th century both Belarus and Ukraine were conquered by the Polish-Lithuanian empires, and that is what gives both western Ukraine and western Belarus its European heritages. In the 20th century, Western Europe and the U.S. are where they get their fascism from.

The 2020 U.S. attempt at a color revolution in Belarus has failed. Lukashenko is a strong leader, and a popular one. Russians of “all colors” admire a strong leader, and some Russians admit that they need one to maintain stability and security.

Lukashenko’s publicity stunt of confronting protesters marching on the presidential palace in Minsk with his AK-47 in his hands and dressed to the hilt in full combat gear played well to his audience in Belarus, and in Russia. Nor did Lukashenko close down Belarus for Covid-19, regardless of the tremendous international pressure to do so. Lukashenko rejected a $940 million IMF loan saying:

“the IMF continues to demand from us quarantine measures, isolation, a curfew. This is nonsense. We will not dance to anyone’s tune.”

Belarus, like Sweden, is probably the better for not locking down the economy.

In Sochi Lukashenko told Putin that he can hear the American tanks in Lithuania 10 miles from the Belarusian border:

“Why do they have to do it? This is why we shouldn’t commit errors that happened during the Great Patriotic War when everyone was trying to calm things down—Soviet army units didn’t even manage to group up and resist the invaders, who promptly crossed Belarus and reached even Smolensk.”

In WW2 it took Hitler just 18 days to overrun Belarusia with the invasion of June 22, 1941. The Russians stopped them at Smolensk, just 250 miles from Moscow. Belarusian partisans continued attacking the Nazis from behind German lines.

The siege of Smolensk lasted until 1943, similar to the sieges of Leningrad and Stalingrad. The victory of the Soviet Union in WW2 cost Russia 20 million dead, Belarus 2 million dead, and Ukraine 7 million dead. All told, about 20% of their populations were killed. The suffering of those who lived through it and the destruction to the Soviet Union are incalculable. Most Americans have no idea of how deep the memory and pain is, or that it was the Soviet Union, not the U.S., that won World War Two.

Lukashenko is the Last Stalinist of the Soviet Union. He bent for “big brother” Putin in Sochi, but he is not going to become a vassal to the U.S. because of NATO tanks on his border. Nor will Lukashenko wilt because of U.S.-backed color revolutionary “pussy-rioters“. The color revolution has failed for now.

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Who is the woman challenging Belarusian President Lukashenko?

Svetlana Tikhanovskaya has emerged as the main opponent of the Belarusian president in the August 9 vote.

by: Mariya Petkova

Tikhanovskaya's team has struggled to conduct campaign activities [Vasily Fedosenko/Reuters]
Tikhanovskaya’s team has struggled to conduct campaign activities [Vasily Fedosenko/Reuters]

On July 14, Belarus’s Central Electoral Commission (CEC) announced the list of candidates registered for the upcoming presidential elections.

Among those who made it, along with incumbent President Alexander Lukashenko, was Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, a former English teacher and a housewife with no prior political experience.

When she emerged from CEC’s building, holding her signed registration document, journalists and allies congratulated her, but she seemed hesitant.

“I’m not sure if I want this congratulations,” she said with a slight smile.

The 37-year-old mother of two had been receiving threats over her decision to run in the elections, which forced her to send her children out of the country, accompanied by their grandmother.

Tikhanovskaya has been honest about her lack of experience in politics and has said she had made the decision to join the presidential race spontaneously. It followed the arrest of her husband, Sergei Tikhanovsky, a popular Youtube blogger who had tried to register as a candidate.

Tikhanovskaya had hoped this would draw attention to his case and help get him released, but had not really expected the authorities would actually allow her to run.

Presidential candidate Svetlana Tikhanouskaya attends an election campaign rally in Minsk

Tikhanovskaya, centre, Kolesnikova, right, and Veronika Tsepkalo attend an election campaign rally [Vasily Fedosenko/Reuters]

What happened next surprised Tikhanovskaya herself, the Belarusian authorities and even longtime observers of Belarusian politics.

Within days of her registration, Tikhanovskaya managed to gather massive crowds at her rallies across the country.

In Minsk, an estimated 63,000 people showed up to her campaign event on July 30. Thousands also attended her rallies in smaller provincial towns, where traditional Belarusian opposition has had a hard time establishing a foothold in the past.

Tikhanovskaya has emerged as a significant challenger to Lukashenko’s 26-year rule. Analysts predict the August 9 elections may well prove to be a turning point in Belarusian politics.

The ‘third force’

Tikhanovskaya’s transformation from a frightened housewife, who was trying to get her husband out of jail, to a popular opposition candidate happened remarkably quickly, aided by a number of factors.

First – the authorities did not seem to perceive her as a political threat.

“Tikhanovskaya, at the beginning of her campaign, appeared very weak. She was indeed under enormous pressure, she was very scared,” Katia Glod, a London-based scholar and consultant on former Soviet countries, told Al Jazeera.

“The authorities thought ‘well, she is very weak, we can easily pressure her, we can destroy her at any time’. But they miscalculated,” she said.

According to Glod, the reason for this miscalculation is Lukashenko’s own patriarchal, retrograde views on women.

In late May, as Tikhanovskaya was still gathering signatures for her nomination as candidate, Lukashenko said in a speech at a tractor factory in Minsk that he was “absolutely sure” the next Belarusian president would be a man.

Belarus activist challenges ‘Europe’s last dictator’ in election (2:40)

“Our constitution is not for women. Our society has not matured enough to vote for a woman. This is because by constitution the president handles a lot of power,” he said.

On July 17, three days after Tikhanovskaya received her registration documents, she was endorsed by two disqualified opposition candidates: Viktor Babaryko and Valery Tsepkalo.

On the campaign trail, she was joined by two other women – Barbaryko’s campaign manager Maria Kolesnikova, and Tsepkalo’s wife Veronika, who helped provide organisational and logistical support.

The three of them appeared together on campaign posters and at rallies, thus solidifying the image of a women-led campaign challenging Lukashenko’s patriarchal rule.

According to Glod, Tikhanovskaya’s popularity is also due to the fact that she has come to represent a new force in Belarusian politics, centred around Barbaryko, a former bank manager, Tsepkalo, a former diplomat, and her husband Tikhanovsky.

They have put forward a new, more positive vision for the country, different than what the traditional opposition used to offer – old political demands and nationalistic slogans.

“All these people, they are not opposition, they are a third force. They were the ones who managed in the first place to attract public support. And then Tikhanovskaya became the symbol, an instrument of change,” Glod said.

Anti-Lukashenko sentiment

Apart from being a new face in politics backed by a popular coalition of forces, Tikhanovskaya’s campaign has also benefitted from the growing anti-Lukashenko sentiment in the country.

According to Olga Dryndova, a Berlin-based researcher and contributing editor to Belarus-Analysen at the University of Bremen, the unpopularity of the Belarusian president has deepened as a result of his mismanagement of the economy and inconsistent information policy during the coronavirus outbreak in the country.

“It was surprising for me that people were so unsatisfied with the authorities, and personally with Lukashenko […], that [they] just united around this new, spontaneous candidate without political experience,” she told Al Jazeera.

Currently, there is no independent polling in Belarus and it is difficult to estimate the true extent of Lukashenko’s unpopularity, Dryndova said.

A March 2016 opinion poll conducted by the Independent Institute for Socio-Economic and Political Studies before it was forced to stop its operations nine months later, suggested that about 27 percent of respondents were willing to vote for Lukashenko.

Belarus' President Alexander Lukashenko

Lukashenko said he was ‘absolutely sure’ the next Belarusian president would be a man [Sergei Gapon/AFP] 

In a July 2020 poll, conducted for a state TV channel, 69.4 percent said they would vote for the incumbent president.

After the initial success of her rallies, Tikhanovskaya’s team has struggled to conduct campaign activities in the days leading up to the election, as the authorities have arrested a number of its members and started snatching from the streets people who have tried to attend her events.

Her remaining rallies were eventually banned.

State media have also reported that investigators are looking into a link between Tikhanovskaya’s husband, Sergei and a group of Russian mercenaries who were arrested on August 29 and who have been accused of preparing “terrorists acts” in Belarus. She has denied any such ties exist. 

On August 4, Lukashenko gave a state of the nation speech, in which he threatened “harsh sanctions” against any unauthorised demonstrations ahead of the elections and implicitly warned the political elite not to “betray” him.

Free and fair

According to Dryndova, Lukashenko appears to be “scared” and he is unlikely to allow for a free and fair election on August 9.

The vote will not have international observers and independent observers have already been harassed after early voting started on August 4.

In her view, Tikhanovskaya’s campaign has galvanised the Belarusian public to such an extent that repression might not stop the popular demand for change.

“There is a feeling of majority, a majority that wants a new president and this can really bring a new dynamic of developments within the society, even if the elections are not free and fair and even if [subsequent] protests are suppressed,” Dryndova said.

“It’s really a very interesting, historic moment for Belarus. We have never seen anything like that. Right now we really have no idea what could happen. Everything is possible. The Belarusian society is really surprising everybody this [electoral] season.”

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Belarus

Alexander Lukashenko Cartoons and Comics - funny pictures from ...

By: craig Murray

There is a misperception in western media that Lukashenko is Putin’s man. That is not true; Putin views him as an exasperating and rather dim legacy. There is also a misperception in the west that Lukashenko really lost the recent election. That is not true. He almost certainly won, though the margin is much exaggerated by the official result. Minsk is not Belarus, just as London is not the UK. Most of Belarus is pretty backward and heavily influenced by the state machinery. Dictators have all kinds of means at their disposal to make themselves popular. That is why the odd election or plebiscite does not mean that somebody is not a dictator. Lukashenko is a dictator, as I have been saying for nigh on twenty years.

My analysis is that Lukashenko probably won handily, with over 60% of the vote. But it was by no means a free and fair election. The media is heavily biased (remember you can also say that of the UK), and the weak opposition candidate was only there because, one way or the other, all the important opposition figures are prevented from standing.

The West is trying to engineer popular opinion in Belarus towards a “colour revolution”, fairly obviously. But they are on a sticky wicket. Western Ukraine was genuinely enthusiastic to move towards the west and the EU, in the hope of attaining a consumer lifestyle. Outside of central Minsk, there is very little such sentiment in Belarus. Most important of all, Belarus means “White Russia”, and the White Russians very strongly identify themselves as culturally Russian. We will not see a colour revolution in Belarus. The West is trying, however.

Unlike many of my readers, I see nothing outrageous in this. Attempting to influence the political direction of another country to your favour is a key aim of diplomacy, and always has been. I was a rather good exponent of it on behalf of the UK government for a couple of decades. The BBC World Service has always been FCO funded and its entire existence has been based on this attempt to influence, by pumping out propaganda in scores of languages, from its very inception. The British Council is not spending millions promoting British culture abroad from a pure love of Shakespeare. Government funding is given to NGO’s that aim to influence media and society. Future leaders are identified and brought on training and degree courses to wed them to pro-British sympathies.

I do not have any trouble with any of that. It is part of what diplomacy is. It is of course amusing when the British state works itself into a frenzy over Russia carrying out exactly the same type of activity that the British do on a much larger scale. But it is all part of an age old game. If I were Ambassador to Belarus now, I would have no moral qualms about turning up to support an anti-Lukashenko demo. It is all part of the job.

There is of course a murkier aspect of all this, where activities are hidden rather than open. The British state funded Integrity Initiative’s work in secretly paying foreign media journalists, or creating thousands of false social media identities to push a narrative (the latter also undertaken by MOD and GCHQ among others), is more dubious. So is MI6’s more traditional work of simply suborning politicians, civil servants and generals with large bundles of cash. But again, I can’t get too worked up about it. It is the dirtier end of the game, but time-honoured, with understood boundaries. Again, my major objection is when the UK gets ludicrously sanctimonious about Russia doing precisely what the UK does on a far larger scale.

But then we get into a far darker area, of assassinations, false flag shootings and bombings and false incrimination. Here a line is crossed, lives are destroyed and violent conflict precipitated. Here I am not prepared to say that time honoured international practice makes these acts acceptable. This line was crossed in the Ukraine; for reasons given above I do not think that the tinder exists to trigger the striking of such a spark in Belarus.

I should be very happy to see Lukashenko go. Term limits on the executive should be a factor in any decent democracy. Once you have the levers of power, it is not difficult to maintain personal popularity for many decades, barring external shock; popularity is not the same as democratic legitimacy. I should state very plainly, as I have before, that I think it was absolutely wrong of Putin to outstay his two terms, irrespective of constitutional sophistry and irrespective of popular support.

The ideal would be for Lukashenko to go and for there to be fresh elections, as opposed to the Venezuelan tactic of the West just announcing a President who has never won an election. The best result for the people of Belarus and for international stability would be the election of a reform minded but broadly pro-Russian candidate. Putin has used the crisis to re-assert the “union” of Russia and Belarus – signed 20 years ago this is a single market and free trade area. Few would doubt, crucially including few Belarussians, that the future of Belarus lies with integration with Russia rather than the EU.

History’s greatest criticism of Putin will be his failure to diversify the Russian economic base and move it from raw commodity exporter to high value added economy. His aims for Belarus will be to ensure it fits neatly with the template of massive commodity exports controlled by a tight knit and highly wealthy oligarchy. Putin will have no interest in the economic reforms Belarus needs.

My expectation is that Lukashenko will hang on, reorienting the economy back towards Russia. Putin’s long term policy goal has always been the reintegration into Russia of majority Russophone areas of the old USSR. That has been his policy in Ukraine and Georgia. Belarus is a major prize. He will seek to bind Belarus in tighter, probably through increased energy subsidy (Putin’s economic arsenal is very limited). Getting rid of Lukashenko is going to move up Putin’s to do list; I give it three years. The current demonstrations in Minsk have no major economic or social effect, and will pass.

UPDATE 17 AUGUST

I just wrote the following in response to a comment below, and I think it usefully explains an important bit of my thinking: and not just on Belarus.

I think the difference between myself and many of my readers is that while we both recognise “western” government as plunder by the capitalist elite exploiting the working class and a fake democracy controlled by a media serving the elite, you and others seem to think that governments are a lot better just because they are anti-Western.
Whereas I believe that many anti-Western governments – Lukashenko, Assad and yes Putin – are also plunder by the capitalist elite exploiting the working class and a fake democracy controlled by a media serving the elite. Just organised a bit differently. And with a still worse approach to civil liberties.

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