Merkel and Putin are pushing Lukashenko to dialogue. This is real?

Angela Merkel once again called on the Belarusian authorities to dialogue with society, and for the first time, Russian President Putin – with the opposition. Is this possible, given Lukashenka’s resistance?

For several days, the leaders of Germany and Russia spoke out for dialogue in Belarus. At the same time, Russian President Vladimir Putin called on the authorities in Minsk to start it even with the opposition, without explaining, however, who he refers to. Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s sharp answer was not long in coming. DW spoke with experts and representatives of the Belarusian opposition about the possibility of dialogue in Belarus, the conditions for it, potential participants, the ultimate goal and the differences between “dialogue” and “negotiations”.

Is dialogue possible in Belarus now?

Andrei Eliseev, co-founder and academic director of the Warsaw research center Eurasian States in Transition (EAST), does not believe that a real dialogue between the Belarusian authorities and the opposition is possible, especially now. “Firstly, all the main opponents of Lukashenka are officially classified as terrorists. Secondly, the period of the so-called public discussion of the new constitution is coming. Lukashenka needs to painlessly go through this stage and hold a referendum. – Eliseev explained in an interview with DW. And he added that, on the other hand, the opposition does not consider Lukashenka a legitimate president.

Lukashenka himself in an interview with the BBC assured that there would be no negotiations with “fugitives and traitors” abroad.

We can say the same about him, retorts Franak Vecherko, adviser to the leader of the democratic forces of Belarus Svetlana Tikhanovskaya. According to him, negotiations with Lukashenka hardly make sense, and “it is worth talking with those in the nomenclature who see the future Belarus as a free and democratic country.”

Denis Melyantsov, coordinator of the Belarus Foreign Policy program of the Minsk Dialogue Council on Foreign Relations, agrees that dialogue is impossible today, but explains why in a different way: “The Belarusian authorities have completely stabilized the situation inside the country, no protest street activity has been observed. There is no longer a large-scale threat to the political system, such as in August-September last year. Therefore, the authorities do not see the reason and subject of negotiations with foreign opposition centers. Now the likelihood of such negotiations is minimal since the beginning of the protests. “

What do you need for a dialogue?

In turn, Franak Vecherko, the adviser to Tikhanovskaya, calls the stabilization in Belarus imaginary. The regime, in his opinion, felt confident back in the spring, but then the Ryanair plane was hijacked and an artificially created migration crisis, another 350 political prisoners were thrown behind bars, Viktor Babariko and Maria Kolesnikova received huge prison sentences.

“Therefore, his control (over society. – Ed.) leaves again, only now not because of street protests, but because there are more and more disloyal people inside the system who do not want to share responsibility for Lukashenka’s crimes, “Vecherko said in an interview with DW. Such sentiments, according to his observation , are growing not only among business, but also among officials, including the ministerial level: “Our task is to warm up these processes.”

The dialogue in Belarus, says Andrei Eliseev from the Warsaw research center EAST, may begin in the event of a real weakening of Lukashenka’s positions, when his political and financial support from Russia will greatly decrease in comparison with the current one. According to Eliseev, “when Putin spoke about the Belarusian opposition, he probably meant exclusively pro-Russian forces, rather than real political opponents of Lukashenka, like ex-banker Babariko.”

Negotiations in Lukashenka’s understanding

Meanwhile, Alyaksandr Lukashenka has his own vision of real negotiations. Mentioning Yuri Voskresensky, head of the so-called Round Table of Democratic Forces (KSDS), in an interview with the BBC, Lukashenka said that such negotiations are already underway: street in Minsk. – Ed.), in a pre-trial detention center, today they are forming their own party. They have a different point of view from mine, they see Belarus in some way in a different way. But they are not traitors, and they are on your (West – Ed.) money does not live in the country. “

According to Eliseev, the Belarusian authorities are promoting Voskresensky’s “Round Table of Democratic Forces” in order to create the illusion of the existence of the so-called constructive opposition, which is in fact completely controlled by the regime. “This is a Soviet practice used by Minsk,” Yeliseyev emphasizes and explains. “Formally independent youth, women and other organizations are being created, ostensibly to represent civil society. In reality, their leadership is carefully selected by the presidential administration, and actions are fully controlled by Lukashenka.”

Franak Vecherko assessed the initiative of Yury Voskresensky even more harshly: “Every dictator creates for himself pocket oppositionists with whom he conducts conversations.”

In theory, the beginning of a real dialogue in society could improve Minsk’s relations with the West, but it will not lead to an automatic lifting of sanctions, warns Denis Melyantsov of the Minsk Dialogue. At the same time, the power will be seriously weakened and its image in the eyes of supporters will fall, while the opposition, on the contrary, will raise its status.

Melyantsov admits that Belarus certainly needs some kind of dialogue, since in the current state of mobilization, when a high level of repression against dissidents remains, the government finds it difficult to exist. “We need to reach a national consensus, curtail repressive practices and aggressive rhetoric of the state media,” he said.

How to bring the positions of the parties closer together?

The problem is that Lukashenko and his opponents, according to Melyantsov, have taken such irreconcilable positions that it is difficult to talk about finding a common denominator: “The authorities believe that the opposition undermines Belarusian statehood and independence, and the opposition calls Lukashenka’s departure and the complete reformatting of the country a precondition. “.

What can bring together the positions of the sides, now so polarized? Now it is extremely difficult, says Franak Vecherko: “We believe that the main goal of the negotiations should be to hold new elections. For the other side, this is the risk of losing everything at once. nomenclature. Ed.) are also observed “.

Both Lukashenka and his opponents use the terms “dialogue” and “negotiations”, as a rule, as synonyms. But Franak Vecherko puts different meanings into them. Dialogue, in his words, is when the Belarusians themselves must decide their future, and negotiations are rather the last stage of the dialogue, when there is already a specific goal that we want to achieve.

“This is when everyone sits down at the table – representatives of the Belarusian business, the nomenklatura, political parties, the Coordination Council, political leaders who are now in prisons, and, possibly, Lukashenka. When everyone is free, and we will clearly know why we need these negotiations and where we want to go, then it will make sense. So far, this is all – imitation and does not make much sense, “- said the adviser to Tikhanovskaya.

He also pointed out the importance of the fact that in a telephone conversation with Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, acting German Chancellor Angela Merkel once again spoke unequivocally for dialogue in Belarus and for new elections as a way to resolve the crisis in the country. “Our positions with Merkel, Germany and the European Union completely coincide here,” Vecherko summed up.

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