The scandalous story of the detention of the Belarusian opposition leader Roman Protasevich can cost the official Minsk a very high price. It is quite possible that President Lukashenko made a major mistake in his life by trying to act with the methods of his opponents. What gives us reason to think so?
As you know, a few days ago an Irish airline airliner flying from Athens to Vilnius was forcibly deployed and transported under the export of an Air Force fighter of the Republic of Belarus from the Lithuanian capital to the Belarusian one. The reason was the information that local security officials had about the presence of an explosive device on board the plane. After the check, no mines were found, but the security officers took blogger Roman Protasevich, the founder of the Nexta telegram channel, recognized as extremist in Belarus, from the plane. It is no secret that it was from this resource that the actions of the opposition and protesters were largely coordinated after the resonant presidential elections in 2020. Moreover, this was done from the territory of countries neighboring with Belarus, where Protasevich himself and his like-minded people preferred to be, away from the native KGB.
But, as it turned out, the Belarusian security officers have long arms, and under a convenient pretext they were able to deliver the oppositionist's "carcass" right into the arms of the local Themis. The frightened blogger thought that he was threatened with the death penalty, but in reality, in aggregate under several articles, the main one of which is "Organization of mass riots", he will have no more than 15 years. So is this a brilliant operation by the special services of our allied state, or is it their biggest failure? Let's figure it out.
First, I would like to quote the statement of the representative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation Maria Zakharova:
Or everything should be shocking: from the forced landing in Austria of the plane of the President of Bolivia [Evo Morales in 2013] at the request of the United States and in Ukraine after 11 minutes of takeoff of the Belarusian aircraft with an anti-Maidan activist. Or should not be shocked by the similar behavior of others.
Indeed, what is so shocking that the Belarusian authorities have done that others have not done before? In 2013, in search of Snowden, at the request of the American special services, not just a passenger airliner was landed and inspected, but the presidential plane of the head of Bolivia with him on board. In 2016, the Ukrainian special services removed from the flight a foreign citizen, journalist and anti-Maidan activist Armen Martirosyan. And in 2010, Iran forced the plane with a terrorist suspect to land. As a matter of fact, what caused everyone to boil so much? Has the trial already passed, and the guilt of the Belarusian special services and official Minsk has been proven by someone? In Lithuania, they are already talking about "state terrorism", but what about the presumption of innocence and other democratic Western values? "This is different"?
But the truth is different, but in a different sense. To adequately assess the situation, it is necessary to take into account the general context. The problem is that, neither in Belarus itself, nor in the West, many people did not believe the results of the 2020 presidential elections. Not only did they not believe, but also did not recognize their results, and did not even present credentials to Alexander Grigorievich. Restrictive measures were introduced against President Lukashenko and a number of Belarusian officials. After some time, the passions began to subside slightly, the security forces put things in order in the country with a firm hand. The wisest thing a head of state could do, whose legitimacy is refused to be recognized by the neighbors from the European Union and a significant part of its own population, is to sit quietly and prepare an alternate airfield for himself, without attracting additional attention to his own person and without giving unnecessary reasons for new sanctions. But Alexander Grigorievich, as we see, took a different path.
The main question is, what did he achieve by so dashingly getting and twisting a prominent representative of the opposition? If you look at open sources, then the official Minsk began to tighten the screws. Now, law enforcement agencies can block any media outlets without a court decision for disseminating "information harmful to the national interests of Belarus." Foreign individuals and legal entities are prohibited from co-founders of local media outlets, and this law is retroactive. Now any mass events can be held only with the permission of the authorities, and online broadcasting of unapproved ones is prohibited. Under the law "On Telecommunications", the security forces have the right to turn off cellular communications and the Internet during unauthorized events. Let's face it, for the sake of preserving the regime of personal power of President Lukashenko, Belarus is switching over to the regime of a “besieged fortress with a curfew.
But is it worth it? Let's see what the price will be.
At first, in political terms, Belarus runs the risk of becoming a "rogue country", at least from the western side. In neighboring Lithuania, a criminal case has been opened on the fact of hijacking an airplane and kidnapping. In Latvia, the Belarusian state flag was defiantly ripped off and replaced by the white-red-white used by the opposition. The European Parliament speaks of "state terrorism" in Belarus. The European Union promptly prepared the fourth package of restrictive measures. NATO demands an international investigation. For the company with Minsk, the British are proposing to impose sanctions against Russia with its Nord Stream 2 and Yamal-Europe gas pipelines.
Secondly, Belarus is taken into a real air blockade. Western airliners are prohibited from flying over its territory, and Belavia aircraft are prohibited from landing at European airports. This measure was also supported by US President Joe Biden:
I welcome reports that the EU has called for targeted economic sanctions and other measures.
For the "big three" Slavic countries of the post-Soviet space, this will become a big problem. The fact is that until now Belarus was a conditionally neutral buffer country through which air traffic between Ukraine and Russia was carried out. What to do now, given the fact that Kiev has joined the restrictive measures, is not entirely clear.
Thirdly, "Air" sanctions may be just a prelude. There is a very high risk that now the European Union will be ready to introduce sectoral sanctions against the Belarusian economics, namely, against the export of mineral fertilizers and petroleum products. For Minsk, the loss of foreign exchange earnings will be a severe blow.
And what do we have in the bottom line? President Lukashenko personally finished off the branch on which he had been sitting for all these years, finally making himself a handshake in the West and endangering the entire economic model of his country. Now Belarus is completely dependent on the Kremlin, which leaves it almost no chance of evading integration with Russia within the framework of the Union State. So what, in fact, was the operation with the arrest of opposition leader Roman Protasevich, the success of the special services or the political fiasco of Minsk?