The Real Winner in the Ukraine Crisis

Belarus.

On April 22, Lukaschenko began his annual address to the nation by emphasizing the need for unity in a time of crisis. He warned that internal disagreements are dangerous because there are always actors interested in exploiting these cleavages. This is not a new theme in his rhetoric, but now the dangers are far more real and are having the desired effect. It would be a mistake to interpret Lukaschenko’s rhetoric as genuine concern over Russia’s intentions. Instead, Lukaschenko is using the Ukraine crisis to portray himself as a guarantor of Belarusian stability and sovereignty and to divert attention from domestic problems.

In the meantime, Belarus is getting ready to host the Ice Hockey World Championship. According to the latest estimates, nearly 70,000 tourists from over fifty countries are headed to Minsk. Against the backdrop of the Ukrainian chaos, Belarus will seem an open, stable and effective post-Soviet state, if only for a few weeks during the games, until the human rights concerns return to the Western agenda.

Renewed attention to Minsk could be an opportunity for the West to abandon the black-and-white approach to understanding policy making in Minsk. Instead of lumping Belarus with other pariah states and treating it as an absolute dictatorship, Western analysts should be attentive to the actual processes of opinion formation and decision making in the country.

Volha Charnysh is a Kennan Research Scholar at the Wilson Center

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