Tuesday, September 1, 2020

BELARUS: In the “millstones” of the exploitative system

The opposition to Lukashenko with the old flag of the country,
which was used during the German occupation
The article was published in “Rizospastis” newspaper, Organ of the CC of the Communist Party of Greece (KKE), on 22/8/2020, under the title "BELARUS: In the “millstones” of the exploitative system".

The “baton” of imperialist intervention ended up in Belarus

By Elisaios Vagenas.

On August 10th, the day after the recent Belarus presidential elections, a tanker docked at the port of the Lithuanian city Klaipeda,  carrying 76,000 tons of crude American oil,  ordered by the “last dictator of Europe”, as the western Mass Media likes to call the President of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko.

This was the second American cargo received by Belarus. At the beginning of the summer, 77,000 tons were received via the railway network and from the same port. Belarus was considering receiving American or Saudi oil via Polish ports, as part of its effort to decrease its dependence on Russian oil. That was the conclusion of the visit of American Secretary of State, M. Pompeo to Belarus last February. Of course, given the recent developments that followed the presidential elections, all these plans seem to be up-in-the-air. Or, maybe not?

But, let us look at some facts about Belarus.

On Belarus

This country has roughly 10 million inhabitants. It borders on the west with 3 EU countries (Lithuania, Latvia, Poland), on the south with Ukraine and to the east with Russia. It is considered to be the biggest landlocked country in Europe, as it has no access to any sea or ocean.

It originated from the dissolution of the Soviet Union and it “inherited” developed infrastructure for agricultural-livestock and industrial production. It maintains close political-economic and military relations with Russia. It entered into an agreement with Russia to establish a single state, but despite various “road maps” that have been agreed upon, this process is on hold. It participates in regional associations of which Russia is the “steam engine”, such as the “Eurasian Economic Union” (EAEU) and the “Collective Security Treaty Organization” (CST). 

Following a proposal by Al. Lukashenko and ratified by referendum (1996) “Independence Day” was moved from 27/7 (the day of exit from the USSR) to 3/7, the day the Red Army liberated the capital Minsk (3/7/1944) during World War II, during which Belarus lost 1/3 of its population.

Relations with Russia and China

The US Secretary of State, M. Pompeo, in a moment of euphoria with
the President of Belarus, Al. Lukashenko, at their meeting in Minsk
in February this year.
Belarus  is heavily dependent on Russian energy sources and plays an important role in the export of Russian hydrocarbons to Europe. It “inherited” from the USSR an important section of oil and natural gas pipelines, from which 50% of Russian oil and 30% of Russian natural gas is exported annually to Europe.

At the same time, it earns significant revenue from the processing of Russian crude oil, as it has large refineries which produce gasoline and diesel which resell in European countries, ensuring up to 25% of the state budget revenues (8 billion euros a year). In addition, it has received a number of subsidies and loans from Russia, which currently account for 40% of its external debt, while the second largest financier is China (26%). In addition, Russia is the main importer of Belarus products ( e.g. dairy products, tractors, buses), while China is the second largest importer.

The key foreign investors in 2019 came from Russia (44,2% of all investments), followed by Britain (19,7%), Cyprus (6,6%), countries in which Russian capital is highly active.

China views Belarus as the “last stop” on the “Silk Road” before the EU. For this reason, in recent years it has proceeded with investments and subsidizing of the Belarus economy, to the benefit of its own monopolies.

Belarus-Russia relations over the past 26 years during which the President of the country is Al. Lukashenko are reminiscent of alternating “cold and hot showers”. On the one hand, Belarus has emerged as Russia’s closest “ally”. On the other, over these 26 years, the two countries have engaged in a series of trade “wars”. At times, over the transport prices for Russian hydrocarbons, at others, over the prices at which Belarus purchases Russian hydrocarbons. At times, over the import of Belarus dairy products to Russia (the Russian media maintains that the Belarus state subsidizes their production to a much greater extent than the Russian state, resulting in unequal competition for the corresponding Russian companies). While the government-friendly Belarus media focuses on the aims of Russian capital to ‘extend its tentacles” into sectors of the country’s economy that haven’t been privatized yet.

A. Lukashenko on several occasions has undermined Russian plans to deepen the capitalist unification of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) countries, e.g. shaking up plans for a common currency. At the last teleconference summit of the EAEU (May 2020), Belarus and Armenia blocked the Russian proposal for “strategic development until 2025”, citing above all, the need for the same prices for hydrocarbons in EAEU territories.

What’s more, Lukashenko did not support Russia in critical political decisions, such as e.g. the assimilation of Crimea into the composition of the Russian Federation, or the military operation of Russian in Southern Ossetia, or in Syria.

Russia, all these years, has realized the importance of its strategic alliance with Belarus which is a barrier to the “embracing” of Russian territory by NATO and on the other, there is the westernmost “friendly territory” through which Russia approaches the “pocket” of Kaliningrad, as well as the “passage” of its hydrocarbons to Europe. It has understood the effort of the Belarusian bourgeoisie and its leadership to maneuver, to bargain better terms in the process of capitalist unification, which is underway in the territories of the former USSR, however, it considered the geopolitical margins of these maneuvers to be very limited. There were moments when the Russian side seemed to lose its cool in this “bargaining”, such as in the example of the summer of 2002 when Putin proposed the dissolution of Belarus into 7 regions and their integration into the Russian Federation.

The plans of Euro-Atlantic imperialism   

Clearly, the West (European and American capital) has long-standing aspirations that under Lukashenko’s presidency has found it more difficult than Russian and Chinese capital to penetrate the country.

The EU and the USA for years now, view Belarus as a “forbidden fruit”. For this reason, they pressured Lukashenko to “open” the country to the West, to proceed with political and economic “reforms”. They have been pressuring for decades, at times with the “carrot” (See “EU Eastern Partnership), but mainly with the “stick”, financing and training opposition forces, imposing sanctions on the leadership of Belarus, developing and strengthening NATO forces on its borders. These efforts have not had a visible result, in fact, in recent EU reports estimations were made that do not anticipate immediate political changes in this country.

At the same time when the crisis is deepening all over the capitalist world, the USA attempted to exploit the sharpening in Belarus-Russia relations. Something analogous, that is, to what Russia is doing with Turkey, exploiting the turmoil in its relations with the USA.

In February 2020, US Secretary of State, M. Pompeo, visited Belarus, stating that the USA can meet 100% of the energy needs of Belarus in hydrocarbons. A. Lukashenko declared that the country would cut its Russian hydrocarbon imports to 30-40% of its needs, proceeding to the purchase  of American, and even Saudi oil. Pompeo’s visit was accompanied by concrete steps, as we have already mentioned and by a relaxation, but not lifting, of US sanctions on Belarus. This particular visit had more of a political, not economic, importance. It showed that the leadership of Belarus is aiming to utilize its rapprochement with the USA as a “lever” to pressure Russia.

Lukashenko’s policies and the communist movement

26 years ago the communist movement of Belarus hailed the rise of Lukashenko to the Presidency, his refusal to lead the country to NATO and the EU, to reject the “directives” of the IMF for rapid market reforms. It welcomed the pro-Soviet declarations of the President, but at the same time it maintained a cautious and critical stance towards his aims to strengthen his powers as opposed to those of parliament, to slide further and further into  a personalized and authoritarian way of governing.

In 1996, based on this, there was a split in the Party of Communists of Belarus (PcB) which joined the opposition, and the Communist Party of Belarus (CPB) which arose from the split, and which up until today supports Al. Lukashenko. The PcB evolved into a social democratic party which in the end changed its name to Belarusian Left Party “Of A Just World” and joined forces with the “Party of the European Left”. Conversely, the CPB participates in the International Meetings of the CPs and in the Union CP-CPSU, unreservedly supporting Lukashenko. It has 11 out of 110 Parliament members, while its leadership, such as former First Secretary, I. Karpenko who is now Minister of Education, have taken government positions. A similar stance is maintained by other parties from the former USSR, such as the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF), the Union CP-CPSU, which is a form of their cooperation and which support the old strategy of the ICM, of “stages”, of participation in governments of the “center-left” within the framework of the capitalist system, based on a powerful state sector which will “control” and “regulate” the market.

Of course, the capitalist reality in Belarus as well, where a large section of the economy remains in the hands of the state is relentless. The gains that existed in the USSR, perhaps at a slower rate than the other countries, are shrinking or disappearing. Thus, e.g. the age of retirement in this country too, has increased, the commercialization of social needs, such as Health and Education is moving forward there as well. Thousands of people are forced to abandon their homes and to search for work in Russia, Poland, Lithuania, Czech Republic etc. Official figures show that roughly 60% of the working people work today in non-public enterprises, which percentage-wise is greater than the corresponding percentage in Russia. Indeed, compared to 20 years ago, this shift and the increase of the private sector, along with the increase in social inequalities in the country, is clearly evident. Just in 2020 alone, dozens of enterprises have been privatized.

In the country there are other smaller communist forces, such as the Communist Workers’ Party of Belarus which is affiliated with the Russian Communist Workers’ Party (RCWP), which maintains a stance of “critical support” towards Lukashenko, has not been recognized by the authorities as a political party and cannot participate in political processes, was treated in the previous period, just as any workers’ struggles were, with acts of repression by the bourgeois state.

The 2020 Presidential Elections. Behind the Scenes and the Results

During the pre-election period, Belarusian authorities, utilizing various pretexts, excluded many presidential candidates from the run-up to the elections.

Thus, e.g., Victor Babariko, a banker,  chairman until May 2020 of the Belgazprombank, of which 49% is owned by the Russian “Gazprom” company and 49% by the Russian bank “Gazprombank” was excluded. Following the rejection of his candidacy, he was jailed by the Belarusian authorities for his involvement in an economic scandal.

Valery Tsepkalo was also barred for participating in the elections, a former diplomat, former Belarusian ambassador to the United States, a former foreign minister and now a businessman ,who sought refuge not in a western country, but in Russia,  from where he lashed out at Lukashenko.

Just days before the Presidential elections, 32 Russian citizens were arrested by Belarusian authorities, “war tourists”, as is the nickname for those who staff private military armies. The Belarusian authorities outright accused them of “terrorism”, an effort to create a climate of “destabilization”, demanding explanations from Russia, as it is well-known that various “private armies” have emerged in Russia, as well as in the USA, are intricately linked with official state structures. Indeed, Lukashenko accused the Russian oligarchy and the neo-liberal political forces of Russia of attempting to overthrow him. The gist of all this situation, the various “titillating” scenarios could take pages, so here we will only note the official version, which became known after their surrender to the Russian authorities, is that they fell “victim” to the Ukrainian secret services, who, by deceiving them, directed them to Belarus, in order to cause a crisis in Belarus-Russia relations.

The elections finally took place and according to official data, more than 84% of registered voters took part. Alexander Lukashenko who has been elected as President of the country continuously since 1994, was re-elected with 80.1% of the vote,                      

His key opponent was Svetlana Tsikhanouskaya, spouse of Sergei Tsikhanouski who had also been excluded from running for the elections, recorded 10.1% of the vote, but she completely disputes the results that the country’s Electoral Commission has issued and maintains that she is the victor based on the vote count done by opposition party representatives. The business couple Tsikhanouski clearly have a more pro-Western  “agenda” than the other two excluded candidates, who declare themselves in “favor” of international cooperation with all sides”. All of them, however, project the deepening of privatizations as a “panacea”. In the end, Tsikhanouskaya fled to Lithuania where she formed  “Coordinating Council”, which is demanding that Al. Lukashenko hand power over to her.

Post-Election Developments

Following the announcement of A. Lukashenko’s re-election, days of protests broke out in the center of Minsk and in other cities, with nationalistic flags and anti-governmental slogans, such as “leave!”. There were clashes between protesters and the police, intense repression and the use of flash-bang grenades, clubs, plastic bullets etc, with more than 6-7 thousand arrests and the death of 2 protesters. At the same time, in many large enterprises of the country, opposition forces were able to organize mass strikes.

An element denounced by the authorities as an attempt at a “color revolution” was the involvement of other states in supporting the opposition forces, mainly of the Baltic States, primarily Lithuania, as well as Poland, that is the EU countries where gross violations of democratic rights and freedoms occur, such as the persecution of communists. In fact, on 13/8, the ambassadors of the EU and the US laid flowers at the spot where a dead anti-government protester had fallen.

In terms of international recognition of the results of the elections, until now, the leaders of Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Moldova, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Syria, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Vietnam, Turkey, and Armenia ( the Prime Minster, but not the President) sent congratulatory messages to Al. Lukashenko. The EU which does not recognize the result, has moved in the opposite direction, imposing sanctions, as has the USA, although with lessened intensity than we have been accustomed to over previous years.

It should be noted that the forces supporting Al. Lukashenko, getting over the initial  surprise, organized rallies with state flags and the slogan “We will not allow the country to disintegrate”.

Al. Lukashenko spoke at one of these, while he also went and spoke to strikers at a large enterprise in Minsk. He came and went by helicopter and during his speech called upon the workers to make sure they don’t lose their jobs, so that the country “not disintegrate” and to “stay away from politics”. Of course, he didn’t manage to avoid the taunts of some sections of the strikers.

At the same time, the Belarus President, after the aggravation of the political situation, made various “pro-Russian” statements and additionally stated that he is in contact with Russian President V. Putin on a steady basis and that the CST forces could intervene in Belarus if the intervention of the West escalates. He left a “window” open for a repeat of the elections,after the approval of the new Constitution of the country in a referendum.

The Belarusian President mobilized the military forces of the country to the west, citing the reinforcement of NATO forces there and at the same time, seemed determined to prosecute all those who joined the “Coordinating Council”, set up by Tsikhanouskaya, demanding he “surrender power”.

Of course, at the time of writing this article things are still unsettled, there is great mobility. For example, the imprisoned V. Babariko sent a letter to Putin, while the so-called “Coordinating Council” pledged that it did not intend to disrupt relations with Russia. It’s worth mentioning here the statement by former President of Poland, A. Kwasniewski, who had played a “special role” in the violent overthrow in Ukraine. In particular, he warned the EU that “by fighting for the overthrow of Lukashenko, he could, unexpectedly for it, bring to power a pro-Russian leader in Belarus.”

Some Useful Conclusions    

The developments in Belarus clearly demonstrate that the “baton” in a series of imperialist interventions by the USA, the EU, NATO in the Eurasia region reached Belarus as well. Their aim is to “tighten” even further the “noose” around Russia, for the Euro-Atlantic forces to gain economic and geo-political “pillars” in the tough  intra-imperialist competitions with other forces of the imperialist “pyramid”, such as Russia and China.

Once again, they are exploiting forces that they have heavily funded and trained for this task, just as they did in Ukraine and they “are carrying with them” the most reactionary and nationalist elements that exist in Belarus. All these forces “flared up”, along with the bourgeoisie which “was nurtured” during the years of Lukashneko’s governance.

Heaps of “inflammatory materials” were found in the social problems and impasses, that were created by the capitalist path of development and in Belarus over the past 26 years under Lukashenko’s presidency, while the “fuse” was lit by the cynicism and the repression with which the leading political elite attempted to manage the bourgeois elections and the electoral result.

Additionally, the leadership of Belarus “got stuck” and came close to being crushed within the intra-imperialist conflicts between the most powerful forces, which it attempted to exploit.

Under these circumstances, solidarity towards the communists and the working people of Belarus has particular importance, those who can and must organize their own independent struggle based on their interests, to repel foreign interventions, to demand the satisfaction of contemporary popular needs, to pave the way for socialism, which is the only alternative solution to the impasses of the capitalist path of development.

* Elisaios Vagenas is a member of the CC of the KKE and head of the Party's International Relations Section.