What happens in Minsk doesn't stay in Minsk

What happens in Minsk doesn't stay in Minsk

The political turmoil in Belarus continues. Popular protests against President Alexander Lukashenko are growing, but the longtime strongman refuses to budge, just a week after winning reelection — in a vote that the opposition and most international observers say was rigged. On Monday, Lukashenko grudgingly agreed to go the polls again… after a constitutional referendum process that he can draw out as long as he wants (and which will likely be rejected by the protesters).

Beyond its borders, the post-election drama in Belarus is being closely watched by outside players with a keen interest in the outcome of the crisis.


Who are they, and what do they want?

The European Union. Brussels is concerned about real political instability brewing on European borders, but the EU's response has so far been mixed. While Eastern European member states have been leading the charge for EU sanctions, Europe in general is worried about chaos disrupting Belarus' role as a transit nation for Russian oil exports. And of course, there's the risk of tangling again with a Kremlin that has shown — as in 2014 in Ukraine — what it's willing to do to preserve Russia's sphere of influence.

As a whole, the EU would probably be delighted to see "Europe's last dictator" fall, but would want Belarus' next leader to be friendlier towards European values and businesses.

Russia. Minsk is firmly within Moscow's orbit, and it is (like Ukraine) a major strategic buffer between Russia and NATO. But relations between Lukashenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin have soured in recent years over economic issues and Lukashenko's periodic (and largely fruitless) flirtations with the EU.

Putin is in a bind. He has offered to help restore order in Belarus, but is wary of angering the many Belarusians who hate Lukashenko but have no axe to grind with Moscow. The ideal outcome for Russia would be for Lukashenko to be replaced with a more "democratic" yet solidly pro-Russia leader it can groom to keep Minsk on its side. The worst-case scenario is that popular uprising grows and spills over into Russia, threatening Putin's own 20-year grip on power.

Other players. Belarus borders three NATO countries (Latvia, Lithuania and Poland) that fear the current instability could trigger a potential Russian incursion similar to the one that in 2014 ended in Russia's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine. NATO military planners are closely monitoring the situation, although the odds of Russian "little green men" creeping over the border are quite low.

Belarus doesn't have a large ethnic Russian minority who wants to be annexed by Moscow, nor does the country hold the same cultural and historical importance for Russia as Ukraine always has. What's more, Moscow has no territorial grudges there (as it did with Crimea), and Belarus is also not at risk of immediately falling into the "Western camp" as Ukraine was six years ago, when ethnic Ukrainians protesting against the pro-Russia government in Kiev were overwhelmingly in favor of closer ties with Europe and joining the EU.

Finally, the US and China (surprise!) also have a stake. Washington has been moving closer to Minsk in part to explore peeling the country away from Russia's influence, while Beijing would ideally like Lukashenko to stay in power (even in a weakened state) to secure Chinese business interests. However, neither seems likely to take major action soon.

Bottom line. Despite their different goals, outside players share a common interest in peacefully resolving the crisis. For each, the fate of Lukashenko himself — little loved by all — is less important than limiting further unrest in the country, and preventing rival powers from establishing a firmer foothold there. But with hundreds of thousands on the streets demanding his ouster, could outside actors' machinations bring about precisely the deeper instability that all want to avoid?

Updated 08/18/2020 to correct an error on countries bordering Belarus.

Walmart aspires to become a regenerative company – helping to renew people and planet through our business. We are committed to working towards zero emissions across our global operations by 2040. So far, more than 36% of our global electricity is powered through renewable sources. And through Project Gigaton, we have partnered with suppliers to avoid over 416 million metric tons of CO2e since 2017. Read more about our commitment to the planet in our 2021 ESG report.

This time last year, world health experts were speculating about why Africa appeared to have escaped the worst of the global pandemic. Younger populations? Natural immunity created by exposure to past viruses? Something else?

They can stop wondering. Africa is now in the grip of a COVID emergency.

More Show less

"We've been dealing with pandemics from the earliest recorded history. Thucydides writes about a pandemic in the history of the Peloponnesian War. So the last thing 2020 was, was unprecedented," Stanford historian Niall Ferguson told Ian Bremmer on GZERO World. Ferguson, whose new book, "Doom: The Politics of Catastrophe," believes that the world should have been better prepared for the COVID-19 pandemic based on the numerous health crises of the 20th century, from the 1918 Spanish flu to influenza and HIV/AIDS. He provides perspective on how the COVID crisis stacks up compared to other pandemics throughout history.

Watch the episode: Predictable disaster and the surprising history of shocks

COVID-19 was a global catastrophe that blindsided the world's wealthiest nations, and it's far from over. But as disasters go, it was hardly unprecedented. Humanity has a long history of failing to prepare for the worst, from volcanic eruptions to earthquakes to famines to shipwrecks to airplane crashes to financial depressions. But how do we get better at preventing such calamities from happening, and how many seemingly unavoidable "natural" disasters are actually caused by humans? On GZERO World, Ian Bremmer talks about all that and more with Stanford historian Niall Ferguson, who is just out with the perfect book for the topic, "Doom: The Politics of Catastrophe." Plus, a look at how one young Ugandan activist was literally cropped out of the global climate fight.

Listen: Stanford historian Niall Ferguson joins Ian Bremmer on the GZERO World podcast to talk about the geopolitics of disaster. Throughout human history we seem to be unable to adequately prepare for catastrophes (natural or human-caused) before they strike. Why is that? And as we emerge from the greatest calamity of our lifetimes in the COVID-19 pandemic and look to the plethora of crises that climate change has and will cause, what can we do to lessen the blow?

Subscribe to the GZERO World Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or your preferred podcast platform to receive new episodes as soon as they're published.

Get insights on the latest news in US politics from Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi barred two Republican members from serving on the Jan. 6 commission. What's going on?

Well, the Jan. 6 commission was designed to be a bipartisan commission, taking input from members from Democrats and Republicans. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy had the opportunity to make recommendations but the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, could always veto those recommendations. In this case, she did, saying no to two members, Jim Banks and Jim Jordan, both of whom are strongly aligned with President Trump and who voted against certifying the election results in 2020. The Republicans for the most part see the Jan. 6 commission as an opportunity to score political points against them, and the Democrats say this is going to be a fair, non-biased, and nonpartisan investigation into what happened on Jan. 6, starting with a hearing next week with some of the police officers who were involved in the battle with the protesters inside the Capitol.

More Show less

In his New York Times op-ed, David Brooks says the US is facing an identity crisis — protecting liberal and progressive values at home while doing little to stop autocrats elsewhere. But has the US really abandoned its values abroad just because it's withdrawing from Afghanistan? Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group analyst Charles Dunst take out the Red Pen to argue that the US can advance democracy without being the world's sheriff.

More Show less

When the Tokyo Olympics begin on Friday, Japan watchers will be following more than just the performance of Japan's star athletes, including tennis star Naomi Osaka. They will also be tracking the political fortunes of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who is taking a big gamble by staging the event — amid a raging pandemic — in the face of strong and longstanding opposition from the Japanese public. What are the stakes for Suga, particularly with elections on the horizon? Eurasia Group senior analyst Ali Wyne explains.

More Show less

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter, Signal

GZERO World with Ian Bremmer. Watch episodes now

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal

GZERO World with Ian Bremmer. Watch episodes now

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal