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Significantly, the protest in Belarus is not anti-Russian, and one of its main demands is to have free democratic elections held in the country. President Lukashenka is not willing to accept it, but neither is he confident anymore that his riot police can protect him or suppress the growing protest movement. The old methods of terror are not working anymore. During these protests, thousands were arrested and several people reportedly killed. Despite all the brutality, people are still on the streets, in ever-increasing numbers.
President Lukashenka has phoned President Putin several times and warned him that the protests in Belarus are a grave security threat for Russia and that Russia has to be ready to help. Whether Russia is planning to intervene, and how it would do so, is still unclear.
Russia is under the burden of heavy sanctions after the annexation of Crimea as well as the ongoing war in the eastern part of Ukraine. Another set of sanctions could provoke unrest in Russia, which is something that Putin would not want, as he is seeking ways to remain in power after 2024, when his second consecutive term ends.
Many experts think that Russia is hoping for an Armenian scenario in Belarus. In 2018, Armenia also had anti-government protests, which led to a change of power. As a result, the opposition leader Nikol Pashinyan became the Armenian prime minister. Russia was very concerned about losing its influence over Armenia, but luckily for it, Nikol Pashinyan appears to be very co-operative.
In sum, some similarities do exist between the current events in Belarus and Ukraine in 2013–14, but it’s difficult to tell if the same fate awaits Belarus. What is easy to predict, though, is the unpredictability of Russia.
Oleksandr Pankieiev is research co-ordinator at the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies, University of Alberta.