President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus, who leads a Moscow-aligned Soviet-nostalgist authoritarian regime, has got to be concerned about the recent unrest in Uzbekistan–especially coming on the heels of regime change in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan over the past year-and-a-half. However oppressive the situation in post-Soviet despotisms, it is clear Washington is seeking to exploit the situation to expand U.S. influence in the post-Soviet sphere, just as in the Arab world. (Of course this, in turn, allows the despots to potray all opposition as “American agents.”)
On May 19, Bush announced his plan for a $100 million new “conflict response fund” and $24 million for a new Office of Reconstruction and Stabilization in the State Department to coordinate U.S. government efforts to support emerging democracies, with the new Active Response Corps of foreign and civil service officers as a crucial tool. “This new corps will be on call–ready to get programs running on the ground in days and weeks instead of months and years,” Bush said at a dinner hosted by the International Republican Institute, a federally-funded group that (purportedly) promotes democracy worldwide. “If a crisis emerges and assistance is needed, the United States of America will be ready.” Bush cited a series of what he referred to as revolutions during the past 18 months: in Georgia, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan, Iraq and Lebanon. “We are seeing the rise of a new generation whose hearts burn for freedom–and they will have it,” Bush said. (AP, May 19)
The Belarussian Foreign Ministry wasted no time in protesting the measure. Spokesman Ruslan Yesin said: “It is obvious that the U.S. is continuing its line of actions that go beyond the boundaries of international law. Its overt preparations for interference in foreign states’ international affairs are also evident. Such initiatives should receive an uncompromising assessment from the international community and should be fended off resolutely.” (Interfax, May 19)
Late last month, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, in Lithuania for a NATO foreign ministers meeting, met with a delegation of opposition activists from Belarus, who then announced plans for massive street protests. “You are in our thoughts,” Rice told the seven activists. “We admire your courage and we admire your dedication. While it may seem difficult and long, and at times far way, there will be a road to democracy in Belarus.” She added: “It is the time for a change in Belarus.” (Zaman, AFP, April 21)
At the moment, a diplomatic war is braking out between Belarus and NATO member Poland. Belarus has expelled a senior Polish diplomat, accusing him of meddling in the country’s internal affairs. Poland responded by expelling a deputy of the Belarusian ambassador. The Polish foreign ministry announced a list of Belarusian citizens denied entry into Poland in return for the persecution of the Union of Poles in Belarus. The Minsk regime declared recent election of the union’s officials null and void and ordered the reinstatement of the old leadership loyal to Lukashenko. The Union represents the 400,000 strong Polish minority and is the biggest civic organization in Belarus. (Polskie Radio, May 19)
Whatever imperialist intrigues may be underway, dissidents have plenty reason to be afraid (and amenable to accepting Washington’s aid) in Belarus. The most recent Amnesty International report on Belarus notes arbitrary detainment, imprisonment and “disappearances” of opposition figures, trade unions and journalists; the closure of opposition newspapers by government decree; and the shutting down of investigations into government abuses.