They share a common ideology and vision of totalitarian power yet reportedly, Vladimir Putin and Alexander Lukashenko hate each other. As popular opposition in Belarus and the war in Ukraine force them closer and closer together, we examine the relationship between these two men. We also look back at Lukashenko’s rise to power and hear from some of the protestors brave enough to oppose him. Filmed undercover in Belarus in the weeks up to and just after the invasion of Ukraine.
From her exile in Lithuania, a mother recounts how the KGB came looking for her four-year-old son. When a video of Victor attending a protest was seen on social media, the KGB sent photos of him to every kindergarten in Minsk asking the teachers to identify him. They escaped in time but Victor’s father was arrested and imprisoned for attending the same protest. Also in prison is Daria’s husband, Igor, an independent journalist who ran an information channel on the internet. Although he never overtly criticised the regime, he was still given a 15 year prison sentence.
It was the grounding of a Ryan Air flight to arrest journalist Roman Protasevich that provoked stiff sanctions from Europe. In retaliation, Lukashenko lured tens of thousand of refugees from the Middle East and sent them towards Poland. When people started dying in the sub zero temperatures, he blamed Europe and went to play ice hockey with Vladimir Putin. It was a public sign of support from the Kremlin for a man they are bound to support.
Without Russia’s aid, the 2020 popular protests would probably have ended Lukashenko’s regime. In return, Lukashenko has not only allowed Russia to station troops in Belarus, a recently held referendum also links the consolidation of his power with military support for Russia. It enables Lukashenko to stay in power until 2035 and Belarus to host Russian nuclear weapons. The Kremlin knows that any replacement would likely be pro-Western. Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, Belarus’ President-in-Exile, has promised to cut the links with the Kremlin and denounced the invasion of Ukraine. From her base in Vilnius, she tells how she is trying to prevent her country becoming a Russian proxy and how opposition figures abroad are constantly targeted.
In Belarus, everyone knows they live under constant surveillance, ruled by a government that has lost its legitimacy and governs through force. The fear is that if Ukraine loses the war, its fate could be the same.
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