By Quentin Choy
May 30, 2021
For the past few days, I couldn’t really think of anything worth blogging about, but I was hearing and reading a lot about what was going on in Belarus, and today, I was scrolling through Reddit, when I saw a title of a user’s post that read: “We (NATO) should invade and topple the Belarusian government.“
This headline had me pretty floored. I had never read such a clear statement in regards to war, intervention, and regime change. While I’ve mentioned U.S. military intervention a few times on this blog in terms of Latin America and Afghanistan, and once about U.N. peacekeepers in Myanmar, I always tried my best to understand and express the nuances of foreign involvement.
I am a strong supporter of democracy as a form of government and oppose reckless usage of the military in regime change and senseless wars that do little good. While a supporter of peace, I understand that sometimes war is necessary if paired with just cause. That’s why such a blatantly clear title shocked me so much.
Below is the entire post made of just a few lines:
“We (NATO) should invade and topple the Belarusian government.
With the recent fraudulent election, and subsequent mass public protests. And the hijacking of the Ryanair plane.
This is justification to overthrow Lukashenko’s regime. Russia will support Belarus, probably with Russian troops. But Russia wouldn’t have full war, they’re too weak right now, and that’s another reason to do it now before Russia can become stronger.”Reddit post in r/PoliticalOpinions, May 30, 2021
To contextualize what the Reddit user is talking about, we must first discuss who the user is talking about: Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.
Lukashenko became president of Belarus in 1994, just a few years after the larger Soviet Union, of which it was a part of dissolved. Having continued several Soviet-era policies and being an autocrat opposed to western democracy, Lukashenko is sometimes referred to as “Europe’s last dictator” as well as the “father of Belarus.”
Belarus’ human rights record is low, and Freedom House, an organization that monitors democracy around the world rates Belarus as “not free,” giving it just a 19/100 ranking and describing the country as “an authoritarian police state in which elections are openly rigged and civil liberties are curtailed.”
Russia, one of Belarus’ closest allies ranked 20/100, and the United States ranked 83/100.
Many around the world believe that Lukashenko rigged the 2020 election in Belarus, which won him a sixth term as president, and when tens of thousands of protestors demonstrated against him, many were beaten and arrested by police, and opposition figures were jailed or left Belarus.
Lukashenko and his creeping authoritarianism has been a threat to the liberal European Union who view Putin’s Russia, Orban’s Hungary, Erdogan’s Turkey, and Lukashenko’s Belarus as threats to European-style democracy.
While Belarus has been known for its anti-democratic tendencies for years, an incident involving a Ryanair flight. Ryanair Flight 4978 left Athens on May 23, 2021, and was intercepted by a Belarusian fighter jet before it was able to land in Vilnius, Lithuania.
While Ryanair Flight 4978 was in midair, air traffic controllers in Belarus alerted pilots of a “potential security threat on board” and ordered the plane to land in Minsk, the capital of Belarus. While many passengers on board were confused as to what was happening, one passenger, 26-year-old journalist and blogger Roman Protasevich knew exactly what was happening.
Upon landing, Belarusian authorities declared that no bomb was found, and Roman Protasevich, the journalist critical of Lukashenko and his regime was arrested along with his girlfriend in Minsk.
Many in the international community believe that Belarus and its government fabricated the bomb on board and forced the plane to land simply to arrest Protasevich in Lukashenko’s crusade against journalists and dissenters. Protasevich is on the K.G.B.’s list of terrorists in Belarus, and many democratic countries across Europe and the west condemned the forced landing.
The government of Lithuania issued a statement, saying:
“It is an unprecedented attack against the international community: A civilian plane and its passengers have been hijacked by military force.”Lithuanian Government Statement on forced landing of Ryanair Flight 4978
President Joe Biden commented on May 24, 2021 with a statement saying:
“I welcome the news that the European Union has called for targeted economic sanctions and other measures, and have asked my team to develop appropriate options to hold accountable those responsible, in close coordination with the European Union, other allies and partners, and international organizations.”President Joe Biden
Lukashenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin were seen together on a boat trip near Sochi, a city on the Black Sea, and the two autocratic leaders are believed to be allied against the democracies of the west. Belarus has received a $500 million loan from Russia amid sanctions from the West.
Going back to the Reddit post about toppling Lukashenko, I oppose the view that NATO troops should be sent in to invade Belarus and topple him. A war of NATO against Belarus would be devastating to Europe, NATO, Russia, Belarus, and the United States with Lukashenko being very likely to crack down even harder were his country to engage in war with the west.
While I believe the user is coming from a good place, their solution seems way too risky and disproportional to the situation. Economic sanctions and heavily monitored free elections are the direction the west must take against Lukashenko and his autocratic regime.
A similar instance I can think of to the arrest of Roman Protasevich is the killing of American journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Turkey. After the CIA determined that Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had ordered the killing of Khashoggi, very little was done by both the Trump and Biden administrations about it.
It seems reckless to suggest war for the arrest and forced landing of a plane when just three years ago, an American citizen was ordered assassinated by a U.S. ally and nothing was done.
While Lukashenko’s regime is reckless and out of control, enough diplomatic pressure and economic pressure could squeeze him out of power, and it is far too early to be suggesting things like full-scale regime change and invasion.
Image Courtesy of The Japan Times.