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Balanced foreign policy. Op-Ed by Victor Pelin


https://ipn.md/public/index.php/en/balanced-foreign-policy-op-ed-by-victor-pelin-7978_1075515.html

“However, copying Lukashenko, President Dodon should not ignore the latest developments related to the authoritarian regimes in Belarus and Russia, where they now protest in tens of cities against the autocratic governments...”

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After the presidential elections in Belarus, we could find out what they mean when the Moldovan authorities, especially President Igor Dodon, speak about the necessity of pursuing a balanced foreign policy.

Moldovan MPs and election observation in Belarus

Starting with 1994, when Alexandr Lukashenko replaced Stanislav Shushkevich as President of Belarus, this country hasn’t seen free and fair elections. After 26 years of government with an iron hand, President Lukashenko recently won the sixth term in office as President, after the most elementary rules for ensuring free and fair elections were violated. First of all, international observers on behalf of international human rights institutions that monitor elections, such as ODIHR (OSCE) and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, were absent. Secondly, independent national observers were absent.

At the same time, international observers were yet present. These represented the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CSI). The delegation of observers on behalf of the CIS included MPs of the parliamentary group of the Party of Socialists of the Republic of Moldova (PSRM) – Adrian Lebedinschi and Alexandru Jolnaci. The conclusions reached by the CIS observers are the following: “The elections of August 9, 2020 took place in accordance with the Constitution and the Election Code of the Republic of Belarus. They were transparent, competitive and ensured the free expression of the people’s will… As regards the candidates, we could convince ourselves that they presented their programs freely and had access to state TV channels of the Republic of Belarus”. So, nothing unordinary happened. “Little green men” from Russia didn’t become involved and no other deviations were identified. It’s a pity that the CIS observers didn’t publish their election monitoring report so as to elucidate the method of vote counting, of publishing the protocols, etc. After such estimates of the electoral process, it is not clear why the citizens of Belarus took to the streets and the clashes with the police resulted in deaths and injuries and in the arrest of over 6,000 persons, who are being tried in remand prisons.

Surely, Article 13 of the Election Code of Belarus refers also to the transparency of the election process and observers’ rights. Definitely, the national observers monitored the process, totaling 43,000! But most of these represented such organizations as the Trade Unions Federation, whose president is close to President Lukashenko, and all kinds of youth unions affiliated to the government. Even so, not all the observers were allowed to enter the polling places owing to COVID-19. Surprisingly, but President Lukashenko, who vehemently denied the danger of infection when the pandemic started, now limited the access of observers to polling stations due to such a danger. To better realize the role of the national observers in Belarus, we should compare these with eventual Moldovan observers chosen to monitor the elections in the Republic of Moldova, from among the Civil Society Council working under President Igor Dodon.

Birds of a feather flock together

In the post-electoral crisis situation in Belarus, it is interesting to know who recognized the presidential elections as free and fair, congratulating Lukashenko on the deserved victory. Evidently, he was congratulated by leaders of states with authoritarian regimes that are members of the SCO and CIS, which delegated observers to obverse the elections. Among these are the President of Moldova Igor Dodon and the Prime Minister of Armenia Nicol Pashinean. However, it should be noted that the first congratulatory message came from the Chinese leader Xi Jinping, who, by all appearances, is the most important devoted supporter of Lukashenko. An interesting thing is the fact that the President of Russia Vladimir Putin didn’t aim to be the first to congratulate Lukashenko. Definitely, this would have appeared insincere against the arrest of the 33 “little green men” whose mission was to destabilize the pre-electoral situation and, possibly, the post-electoral one. In such circumstances, only after the congratulatory message of Putin, the other authoritarian leaders of the CIS followed his example.

Among the states whose leaders congratulated Lukashenko, only Turkey does not form part of the CIS and SCO. To understand the special relations between Belarus and Turkey, we should take into account the frictions and pressure exerted by Russia on Belarus in the process of constituting the Eurasian Economic Union in 2014 – 2015. These explain what made Lukashenko to look for support to balance the dominant influence of Russia. Consequently, among the faithful friends of the Belarusian leader are now a regional power – Turkey – and a world power - China. This is a sample of balanced foreign policy that allowed Belarus in time to benefit from the import and refining of tens and tens of millions of tonnes of Russian crude oil, gaining tens of billions of dollar,s and to simultaneously look for a counterbalance to Russia’s influence.

By all appearances, Lukashenko knew that lightning doesn’t strike in the same place twice and had to make sure that, if Russia shows its brotherly dissatisfaction, he will be able to reorient to other partners, with regional and world weight. This is probably the reason why the 33 “little green men” from Russia had the mission to give a good manners lesson to Lukashenko, punishing him for his geopolitical oscillations. But Lukashenko had not only the courage to neutralize the brotherly hugs of Russia, but also the ability to obtain the first and most important support from a world power.

In such circumstances, Turkey, as a regional power, could not remain uninvolved. Given that it has very tense relations with Russia in Syria and Libya, it was to state its support for Belarus, which is situated right next to Russia, in a visible way. It would have been strange if Turkey’s involvement hadn’t attracted the involvement of its partner – Azerbaijan – in support of Lukashenko. The involvement of Russia, Turkey and Azerbaijan could not leave Armenia detached, especially following the recent renewal of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict. So, we can find explanations for the support given to Lukashenko by the leaders of the mentioned states, except in the case of President Igor Dodon.  

Smoke and mirrors

We must admit that by congratulating his Belarusian counterpart on the victory in elections, Igor Dodon showed yet a hesitating behavior. The truth is the information about the congratulation of Lukashenko was published on the President’s personal blog and was absent from the presidential administration’s official website. In fact, President Dodon could not avoid recognizing the results of the elections that were monitored and approved of by his colleagues, MPs of the PSRM. Moreover, President Dodon is a fan of President Lukashenko and of his style of government, declaring even that “Most of the Moldovans envy the Belarusians somehow... , the quality of life in Belarus is better than in Moldova in many respects”. We cannot know if the Moldovan citizens really envy the Belarusian ones, but President Dodon definitely envies his Belarussian counterpart and often copies Lukashenko’s behavior, aiming to also copy his system of government so as to turn Moldova into a presidential republic. From this viewpoint, it’s not surprising that President Igor Dodon joined in the autocratic leaders, congratulating Lukashenko.

Actually, President Dodon’s behavior should no longer surprise us, for example, if he and the members of the PSRM publicly share the viewpoint of their colleague from the Russian Imperial Movement Mikhail Leontiev, who recently stated: “we will soon face the necessity of depriving the young people of the right to vote, probably, in the nearest future. Or we will lose the country (Russia). It’s true. As those people know nothing. Ukraine is close and it is monstrous! My opinion is that the young people do not need at all their right to vote. Youth is a painful disease that passes with age. Indeed, why shouldn’t the people from a common front not have common views for the whole Eurasian area? What is important is to be sincere, especially because the number of unionists here, in the country, has grown vertiginously during the past few years, particularly among young people. That’s why, to save statehood, the formula of the imperialist colleague Leontiev, would be a solution applicable to the Republic of Moldova too.

Despite the aforementioned, President Dodon has something in common with Lukashenko’s main opponent - Svetlana Tihanovskaya. It goes to the attitude of the latter to the annexation of Crimea by Russia: “it is a delicate issue. This question divides the people and makes them argue when they start to discuss it. I can say, as they use to say in our country and in accordance with international laws, that Crimea legally belongs to Ukraine, but in fact belongs to Russia? And stop annoying me”. This is similar to Mister Dodon’s position. If he had known about such resemblance of attitudes, President Dodon wouldn’t have probably hurried to congratulate Lukashenko.

In fact, the invoked argument is not the only one that can justify a prudent attitude to the balanced foreign policy, which would be enshrined in the Constitution., which he wants to amend so as to turn Moldova into a presidential republic by the Belarusian or Russian model. If he was sincere in his public approach, it was opportune for Presided Igor Dodon at least to wait for the official position of the European Union to be expressed given that the Republic of Moldova has an economic integration and political cooperation agreement with the EU. It didn’t happen so and the President’s preferences came out, he joining in the autocratic leaders of the Eurasian area. This way, we can presume that the President’s rhetoric about the balanced common policy is actually smoke and mirrors for the credulous citizens.

Conclusions

The example of the President of Belarus Alexandr Lukashenko was and remains encouraging for President Dodon. In this regard, both Lukashenko and Dodon secured the support of their Turkish counterpart Erdogan. Such support has a price and President Dodon accepted to pay this price by pretending to have forgotten the promise to protect Orthodoxy when it is in danger. He is to only follow one more example of Lukashenko and secure the unconditional support of China, alongside the support of Turkey, and the problem of balanced foreign policy would be practically solved. However, copying Lukashenko, President Dodon should not ignore the latest developments related to the authoritarian regimes in Belarus and Russia, where they now protest in tens of cities against the autocratic governments.