Scenarios of political transit in Belarus

Scenarios of political transit in Belarus

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Scenarios of political transit in Belarus

Forty months have passed since the presidential elections in Belarus. The human rights situation has deteriorated significantly, repression continues, and polarization in society persists. The authorities have partially adapted to the sanctions imposed by Western countries and, not counting on their lifting, see no reason to release political opponents, as well as to negotiate with opponents.
The year 2024 will mark 30 years since Alexander Lukashenko came to power. The next presidential election in Belarus can be held at any time, but no later than July 20, 2025.  
The issue of possible political transit is present in the discussion agenda. It is connected with the age of Alexander Lukashenko, his health problems, as well as possible plans of Russia to provide a controlled replacement of the first person in Belarus.
In authoritarian countries, it is difficult to reliably predict the possible scenarios in which a political transition may take place. The regime will eliminate any potential threats before the start of the transition period.
In authoritarian countries, it is difficult to reliably predict possible scenarios under which a political transition may take place. The regime will eliminate any potential threats before the transit period begins.

External factors

Russia, China, Ukraine, West

Intrinsic factors

Lukashenka's family, power bloc, citizens of Belarus

The options proposed for consideration cover the period up to 2025 and may overlap in some points.

Pro-government scenarios.
Scenario 1. Presidential elections without participation of Alexander Lukashenko

After the 2020 elections, the Belarusian authorities, with the support of Russia and the connivance of the West, took a number of measures that allowed Lukashenko to retain power. On September 14, 2020, at a meeting with Alexander Lukashenko and Vladimir Putin in Sochi, the main contours of the future political transition in Belarus were approved. They provide for the resignation of Alexander Lukashenko and the holding of new elections without his participation. Within the framework of this strategy, amendments were made to the Constitution of Belarus, a complete clean-up of the entire political field was carried out. The internal national dialogue was rejected and subsequently replaced by intensified repression. The Western sanctions policy has contributed to the strengthening of Belarus' dependence on Russia and the strengthening of the regime. The issue of political transition can be considered as part of the Kremlin's strategy to establish full control over the political situation in Belarus.
On February 25, 2024, the next parliamentary elections will be held in Belarus. As in previous years, they will be falsified. The emergence of the ruling party, Belaya Rus, which occupies a central place in the nomenklatura, is part of a strategy to weaken the role of the president. The presence of a fully controlled collective body, resembling a parliament, ensures the manageability of the political system.
In April 2024, the All-Belarusian People's Assembly (ABPA) will be held in Belarus, which received the status of the supreme body of representative power in the updated constitution. It is expected that Alexander Lukashenko will become the chairman of the ABPA, which will allow him to retain influence on the situation in the country in case of non-participation in the next presidential election.
The Kremlin will clearly provide substantial financial and informational support to the agreed successor to ensure the loyalty of the bureaucracy, the army, and law enforcement agencies.
The scenario of a managed political transition is also acceptable for China, which has its own business interests in Belarus and is interested in the security of the logistics route within the framework of the "One Belt, One Road" initiative.
Alexander Lukashenko, as chairman of the ABPA, will strive to retain full control over all processes in Belarus. The role of the president in the event of the arrival of a new person will be blurred. There may be prerequisites for conflicts between different centers of power.
Managed political transition aims to exclude citizens from the decision-making process. The main candidates for the role of successors are the speaker of the upper house of parliament, Natalia Kachanava, and the prime minister, Roman Golovchenko. Among the possible candidates: Viktor Lukashenko, as well as the head of the administration, Igor Sergeyenko. Completely unexpected candidates may also appear.

Scenario 2. Death or murder of Alexander Lukashenko
The plan of action in the event of the death or murder of the head of state is regulated in the constitution. In the event of a vacancy in the office of the President or his inability to perform his duties on the grounds provided for by the Constitution, his powers are transferred to the Chairman of the Council of the Republic until the newly elected President takes the oath.[1]
In the event of the death of the President as a result of an attempt on his life, an act of terrorism, military aggression or other acts of violence, all State bodies and their officials shall act in accordance with the decisions of the Security Council, which are carried out under the leadership of the Chairman of the Council of the Republic. At the same time, a state of emergency or martial law is immediately introduced on the territory of the country, and the Security Council determines a list of measures to ensure them.
In this case, the main actor is Natalia Kachanava, who has a conflict with the power bloc. The mechanism for the transfer of power prescribed in the constitution may not go according to the script. The death or murder of the first person could provoke protests. The introduction of a state of emergency or martial law, as well as the possible introduction of Russian troops, will be a forced measure to maintain control over the situation.

Scenario 3. Alexander Lukashenko's Participation in the Next Presidential Election
In 2025, Alexander Lukashenko will turn 71 years old. His decision to participate in the next presidential election will be influenced primarily by external factors and support from the Kremlin. Given Lukashenko's character, fear of prosecution and other factors, there is reason to believe that there is a possibility that he will participate in the next elections. In this case, the issue of political transition will be shifted in time. It is necessary to take into account health problems, the possibility of loss of capacity, up to death.

Oppositional scenarios.
Scenario 4. Power Variant

The use of force to remove Lukashenka is a topic of discussion. However, the likelihood of its practical implementation is low.
In the current conditions, there are no structures capable of organizing a military scenario inside Belarus. Any paramilitary groups operating outside the country have no practical capacity to carry out an armed coup. NATO countries and Ukraine will not allow military intervention from their territory.
Practical probability increases in case of initiation of a criminal case against A. Lukashenko on the territory of other countries or by the party of the International Criminal Court in The Hague and his declaration on the international wanted list. If such an action is implemented, there will be legal grounds for Lukashenka's arrest not only outside the country, but also inside Belarus. In the eyes of his inner circle, he will be regarded exclusively as an international criminal. This case is a sensitive element of the impact on the stability of the regime. For arrest and delivery to court, a fee may be announced, as well as exemption from liability on the territory of Belarus.
The Kremlin will consider the military scenario in Belarus as an armed coup or intervention by a foreign state.

Scenario 5. Military intervention
This option is present in the discourse, but practically none of the neighboring countries will send troops to Belarus. The exception is Russia, which can send troops to protect the constitutional order on the territory of the Union State.

Scenario 6. Revolution
A change of power in Belarus during the revolution is unlikely at the moment. The authorities are carrying out systematic work to eliminate threats. Unarmed street rallies inside Belarus have no serious prospects of leading to a change of power. The counterweight is Russia, which, in the worst-case scenario, will send troops to suppress the protests.

Scenario 7. Negotiations between the government and the opposition
Opportunities to seize power in August 2020 were missed. All the main leaders of the protest are either in prison or in exile. The opposition operating from abroad has no influence on internal processes, but it can partially exert an information influence on Western countries. 
The operation of the special services of Belarus, carried out by the head of the Operational and Analytical Center A. Pavlyuchenko, to take Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya to Lithuania made it possible to extinguish protest activity.[2] The structures formed abroad around the "office of Tikhanovskaya" have partial legitimacy in the West, but have no influence on the situation inside Belarus. Under certain circumstances, the regime can use them in imitation of the negotiation process, provided that there is a need for dialogue to ensure the unfreezing of relations with the EU and the United States. In reality, however, such an outcome is unlikely. The mediation role of several international mediators was unsuccessful. Alexander Lukashenko, as well as his entourage, do not see the political crisis in Belarus and do not perceive their opponents as equal partners. It is necessary to take into account the psychology of the behavior of the authorities, who will not be ready to negotiate with a group of citizens who have no experience and authority among the nomenclature.
It is more acceptable for the authorities to conduct a dialogue with the West directly and not to use opposition structures as intermediaries. A prerequisite may be the amnesty and release of political prisoners.
A broad internal civil negotiation process is possible only after the resignation of Alexander Lukashenko. The need for it will depend on the government's need to overcome the split in society and restore relations with the West.
If the process of political transition is successful and without conflicts, then there may be no need for proxy opposition structures. It is possible that some of them will be eliminated, for example, through more active activities of the special services to split the activities of opposition organizations, leak compromising evidence, etc.
It is necessary to take into account the position of the Kremlin, which opposes the establishment of friendly relations between Belarus and the West, since it considers the country as a zone of exclusively its own geopolitical interests.

Scenario 8. Seizure of power by the opposition
Pro-government scenarios of political transition in Belarus are based on the absence of real competition, the preservation of the authoritarian model, and the exclusion of citizens from the decision-making process. As a rule, the democratic forces of Belarus mirror the actions of the authorities, choosing a reactive strategy, rather than imposing their game on the authorities.
A weak element of the opposition, media and public organizations is dependence on external donors. The population of Belarus practically does not finance political and civic activity. There is an interdependence of recipients of foreign assistance on various funds interested in the development of budgets. Donors allocate funds not for democratization, but for the solution of their own tasks. The beneficiaries of the assistance are intermediary organizations that have no influence on the processes within the Country. This practice has led to the strengthening of authoritarianism in Belarus in recent years[3].
In the current conditions, the opposition has no real opportunities to claim the seizure of power in Belarus during the period of political transition. The sham structures formed around the "Office of Tsikhanouskaya" do not have a real opportunity to seize power in the country. Starting from 2020, European and international institutions in their declarations and statements, as the only representatives of the democratic community of Belarus, indicate structures that are not authorized by the population of Belarus to represent their interests. This significantly undermines trust in European institutions and democratic values, reduces the public activity of citizens, and contributes to the implementation of Russia's plans for the country. International meetings of opposition leaders with foreign politicians do not have a significant impact on the internal political processes in Belarus, except for psychological pressure on individual representatives of the authorities.
The concept of electing a renewed Coordination Council proposed by one of the political groups has a number of significant shortcomings that make this body a meaningless discussion club. The absence of a formed goal of the organization's activities aimed at coming to power will not allow for mass participation of citizens and the formation of a broad national movement. Organizing elections on a non-transparent, unprotected platform from the point of view of security, with potential opportunities to manipulate votes, as well as organizing voting only among emigrants, will lead to an even greater split in society, the extinction of the protest movement, the marginalization of the opposition, and the strengthening of authoritarianism in Belarus.
The opposition has an untapped potential to seize power through the formation of temporary legitimate representative bodies, including a parliament elected by citizens, which could become the supreme legislative body during the period of non-recognition of the current government and during the transition period. Opportunities for protests inside Belarus are limited, and the potential of the diaspora is practically untapped. A strong legitimate center is a prerequisite for organizing the negotiation process, including with the participation of international mediators.
In the pessimistic scenario, many citizens and representatives of the democratic movement will not be able to return to Belarus in the coming years even after Alexander Lukashenko leaves politics. There is a possibility that some of them will be deprived of their citizenship.

The Kremlin's Scenario
Scenario 9. Loss of subjectivity

After 2020, the ruling regime in Belarus became dependent on Russia. Taking advantage of the situation, the Kremlin imposed its own agenda. The sanctions policy on the part of the West has limited the ability to pursue any independent foreign policy. Lukashenko's attempts to find a new foothold in China were unsuccessful.
Launched in 2021, the active process of implementing the treaty on the creation of the Union State signed in 1999 is aimed at implementing the Russian version of unification into a confederation. Its first stage will be completed in 2023 and new areas for the implementation of the agreement will be included in the programs until 2026.[4] According to the basic agreement, it is envisaged to create a union of the two states with a common economic space and customs territory, a common macroeconomic policy, a budget, a coordinated policy in international affairs, defense, security, and the introduction of a single currency[5].
In the event of the formation of political governing bodies (the federal government, parliament), the powers of national governments will be significantly limited. Russia will play a dominant role in such a situation. In this form, the Union State will remotely resemble the Soviet Union, where the leaders of the national republics were not elected by the population, but appointed from Moscow.

Under the current conditions, any political transformations in Belarus will take place under the full control of the Kremlin. Democratic changes in Belarus pose a threat as a factor of destabilization in Russia itself. The West does not see the situation in the country as an emergency and does not see a threat to its security.
The opposition has minimal opportunities to influence internal processes. The consolidation of democratic forces, the formation of a broad national movement and legitimate institutions of power have the potential to influence the situation in Belarus.
Overcoming the political crisis and preserving the country as an independent state requires a reassessment of the approaches of all stakeholders.