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RIA Novosti
March 15, 2006
Antiglobalist Alexander Lukashenko
MOSCOW. Alexei Makarkin, deputy director general of the Center for Political Technologies, for RIA Novosti.)

Presidential elections in Belarus demonstrate the peculiarities of a political model that is becoming an alternative to classic democracy in different countries. This model advances leaders that appeal to their population - first of all, the poorest groups - and eventually confront the Western world. Alexander Lukashenko preaches the cult of strong leadership, sticks to pronounced populism and firmly rejects globalization ideology and institutions. Nevertheless, elections are held, a multi-party system exists and the parliament is active.

But Belarus is situated in Europe, where completely different political principles are accepted. Poland and Lithuania have long been the backbone of the Belarussian opposition; recently, Ukraine has joined them. Moreover, the European Union and the United States sympathize with Lukashenko's opponents. Belarus does not have oil whose windfalls may be used to "feed" the regime's supporters, so the fact that Lukashenko has been in office for 12 years proves the great political talent of this provincially looking person, who is sometimes called "batka", the Belarussian for "father".

Opposition is getting active of late. Part of the republic's former elite is staking on Alexander Kozulin, who has been rector of Belarussian University. Yet most of the incumbent president's opponents - from Communists to liberals - have united around Alexander Milinkevich, a physicist and public figure who has been relatively unknown among voters until recently.

Lukashenko's problem is that he must necessarily win in the first round. If he falls a few percent short of the absolute victory, his regime may erode between the rounds, while many of his supporters, including state officials, will be demoralized. But if his victory is announced in the first round, opposition will attempt a color revolution under the pretext of protecting democracy, accusing the authorities of rigging the election. In this case it will be an adjusted version of the events in Serbia, Georgia and Ukraine.

Hence the receipt of fending off the revolution proposed by Lukashenko: a preemptive strike against the opposition in order to discredit it in the eyes of the population and to disorganize it, turning political opponents into plotters. In so doing, Lukashenko is demonstrating that he is no Kuchma or Shevardnadze. His task is to reduce the potential number of people participating in post-election protests by any means. He could not care less about the Western opinions of his political practices, and he is ready to take the toughest action to remain in power. Obviously, the receipt can be applied only in case of the authorities' total control over leading mass media - the collective organizers and propagandists (as seasoned revolutionary Vladimir Lenin called them), and this is what we are witnessing currently in Belarus.

Lukashenko may succeed once again. All the more so as his isolation is not total: Russia supports him as a partner in the Union State. Its choice has nothing to do with its affinity to the Belarussian leader, who, despite his pro-Russian statements, is a very difficult ally - for example, the introduction of a single currency with the emission center in Moscow has been discussed for several years to no avail. Decision-making on the creation of the Union State's governing bodies is also far from easy.

However, Lukashenko is important for Russia not so much as a pro-Russian figure, but as an anti-Western one. His reputation makes him unacceptable for the European Union, even if he should become an advocate of European integration. This means that as long as he remains Belarussian president, his country will not withdraw from the union with Russia, and will not join NATO. The Baltic countries joined the Alliance in 2004, and at present Ukraine's Orange leadership is seriously thinking of Atlantic integration. With such a background, Belarus seems the only Russian outpost in the West, which is actively cooperating with Moscow in the defense sphere, including air defense.

Hence Russia's purely pragmatic attitude towards the situation in Belarus and its hopes for the stability of the Lukashenko regime. These forecasts may well come true at the forthcoming elections, but this does not mean that the regime will not face any risks later. On the one hand, opposition is becoming increasingly active: at the previous election its representative looked like a meek outsider, but this time we are witnessing a real political struggle. On the other hand, the Belarussian regime, as any pronounced personalized regime, depends on the fate of its leader, who does not have a successor and does not provide for power transfer, even if managed and controlled.