The August presidential elections in Belarus resulted in a sixth consecutive term for incumbent President Alexander Lukashenko, who secured over 80% of the popular vote to beat opposition leader Svetlana Tsikhanovskaya. Unsurprisingly, the results led to an outcry of allegations of electoral fraud by the opposition party, democracy watchdogs, and many western countries. In response to what many have called blatant election tampering, Belarusians have taken to the streets to protest against Lukashenko, widely known as the last dictator of Europe, and over 100,000 pro-democracy protesters have called for his resignation. Lukashenko has denied any wrongdoing, claiming he rightfully captured 80% of the vote in the victory and has accused his opposition as puppets of the West. Furthermore, Lukashenko has cracked down on protesters, detaining over 10,000 and injuring many from police violence. He enjoys renewed support of Russian President Vladimir Putin, while now facing growing intolerance from Western countries.
The European Union, Canada and the United Kingdom rejected the results of the August election, declining to recognize Lukashenko as president, and the EU Assembly overwhelmingly voted to reject the results in support of the pro-democracy protesters. The EU is also investigating sanctions against individuals in the Lukashenko administration. However, the EU has been unable to apply sanctions as they have been blocked by Cyprus, who is demanding measures be taken against Turkey for gas disputes in the Mediterranean.
Canada and the United Kingdom have jointly applied sanctions against Belarussian officials in support of pro-democracy protesters. While the United States also refuses to accept the results of the election or recognize Lukashenko as president, the Trump administration has stopped funding pro-democracy groups in Belarus, Hong Kong, and Iran. Open Technology Fund, a small non-profit which relies on financial aid from the U.S., has said the suspension of funds puts pro-democratic groups at risk, including in Belarus. Interestingly, Lukashenko had enjoyed warming relations with the West in previous years as his relationship with Russia deteriorated, but the reverse now holds true.
Putin has warned the West not to interfere in Belarus, stating that any sanctions or foreign interference would be unacceptable. Russia will aid and support Belarus in the form of an agreed $1.5B loan as well as a commitment to deploy an auxiliary policy force to Belarus if necessary. Furthermore, Putin agreed that Lukashenkos’s proposal of constitutional reform was necessary. Similarly, Putin implemented constitutional changes earlier this year, which would enable him to remain in office until 2036. With the West condemning Lukashenko, there is little choice but to cozy up to Russia. This will allow Russia to maintain Belarus as a close ally without it turning it into another Ukraine. Lukashenko will likely attempt to stifle pro-democracy protests and the opposition, who now find themselves in self-imposed exile in neighboring countries and further entrench himself as leader of Belarus.