On Belarus and a note on Hokkaido

Sunday, 13 September 2020 - 9:15am to 9:30am

This week we're going to touch briefly on a protest in Japan before having a look at Belarus. 

We'll go over its formation as a modern state, its economy and geopolitical importance before a quick bio of Lukashenko and a look at the current situation.


First, to Japan.




The  GSDF, Japanese Ground Self-Defence Force, or ‘army’ as it would be called in any other country, roused protests in the northern island of Hokkaido, when they conducted training exercises using 3 tanks, 11 armoured trucks, and 32 military vehicles on a public road on the first day of September this year.  Protestors chanted ‘don’t use our road’ .  The protests are unusual for their location; while Japan’s pacific island of Okinawa, where 40% of the island is used by the U.S military has long been the site of protests by local people against the presence of U.S bases due to noise, pollution, and assaults by US Marine Corps members,  Hokkaido, in the far north, is usually known for snow in the winter and hiking in the summer.  However, Hokkaido has been the site of increased cooperation between the US Marine Corps and the GSDF and this January they conducted some of the largest joint exercises in the history of Japanese cooperation with the American military, involving 1600 members from the GSDF and about 2500 US Marines.  

    The increasing size of the exercises and the cooperation between the GSDF and the Marines is no coincidence.  It comes after years of efforts by both Japanese politicans and the US to push the boundaries of Japan’s post-war constittion which forbids Japan having a standing army.  Recent administrations have tested the limits by using Japanese forces as support for American military operations and increasing the scope and range of cooperation with the Marines.  However, as the Hokkaido protesters show, the militaristic politicians don’t have it all their own way.  Older Japanese have vivid memories of the awful consequences of the last time Japan had a strong military society and several generations have grown up used to a country which put its own prosperity ahead of military expansion and well aware of Hiroshima, Nagasaki and the firebombing of Tokyo.  The protests in Hokkaido will not be the last we hear of Japan’s large pro-peace constituency.  


Now to



The East-slavic state of Belarus emerged from feudalism under the alternating dominion of Russia and Poland. Various programmes of Polonization or Russification have changed the religion and character of its people over the centuries.



Belarus as a national identity didn't exist prior to 1917

Belarusian as ethnicity  existed, this is correct.

  • Prior to the 1861 abolition of serfdom in the Russian Empire the people of what is now Belarus would have identified more with their village and their lord than the national identity of Belarus.


As an outcome of WWI and the Russian Civil war the region was split and a portion of the West became part of Poland. The Catholic religious minority is concentrated here.  

The remaining part of the country became the Byelorusian Soviet Socialist Republic which was part of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics until its dissolution in 1991.

At the same time as the Byelorusian Soviet Socialist Republic was established the Belarusian National Republic was established as a puppet nation of the German empire. This is the origin of the white-red-white flag of the contemporary opposition. This flag was also used by the Nazi occupation administration and its colloaborators during WWII. The Belarusian National Republic was almost immediately side-lined by the Soviet Socialist Republic of Byelorusia and to this day carries the auspicious title of longest serving government in exile.


The BSSR was occupied by the Nazis in 1941 before being liberated by the Red Army in July of 1944. 

In 1945 Western Belarus was returned from Polish possession to the BSSR.

After WWII Belarus joins what became the United Nations.


In 1986 the country suffers greatly from the fallout of the Chernobyl nuclear reaction disaster.


In 1990 Belarus beings to declare independence from the USSR and gains this in 1991. Lukashenko was elected in 1994 and remains to this day. More on this to come.


Lukashenko wanted to create a union state Belarus-Russia. He bgain this process when Boris Yeltsin was the Russian President. When Vladimir Putin was elected in 2000 the new Russian president put the Union on the backburner.

As of 2015 focus on the development of relations of former soviet countries is continued with the development of the EAEU

Currently the Union State exists as predominantly an economic alliance.


The two countries generally enjoy a warm economic relationship but this is not always the case. The "Belarus as Russian puppet" narrative is simplistic and untrue.





Belarus  is heavily dependent on Russian energy sources and plays an important role in the export of Russian hydrocarbons to Europe. It “inherited” from the USSR an important section of oil and natural gas pipelines, from which 50% of Russian oil and 30% of Russian natural gas is exported annually to Europe.


At the same time, it earns significant revenue from the processing of Russian crude oil, as it has large refineries which produce gasoline and diesel which resell in European countries, ensuring up to 25% of the state budget revenues (8 billion euros a year). In addition, it has received a number of subsidies and loans from Russia, which currently account for 40% of its external debt, while the second largest financier is China (26%). In addition, Russia is the main importer of Belarus products ( e.g. dairy products, tractors, buses), while China is the second largest importer.


The key foreign investors in 2019 came from Russia (44,2% of all investments), followed by Britain (19,7%), Cyprus (6,6%), countries in which Russian capital is highly active.


In February 2020, US Secretary of State, M. Pompeo, visited Belarus, stating that the USA can meet 100% of the energy needs of Belarus in hydrocarbons. A. Lukashenko declared that the country would cut its Russian hydrocarbon imports to 30-40% of its needs, proceeding to the purchase  of American, and even Saudi oil. It is worth noting that this arrangement was not finalised and may have been announced solely to provide Belarus with some leverage with regards to the state of affairs with Russia.


The state-owned companies where workers are on strike, according to the Handelsblatt, accounted for $10 billion out of a GDP of less than $60 billion.


Official figures show that roughly 60% of the working people work today in non-public enterprises


Belarus is economically tied to Russia and China, but makes overtures to the West to give it leverage with Russia.




Relations between Belarus and Russia are friendly but this is not always the case. There have been instances of "trade wars" between the two states. Which also shows that Belarus is not a Russian puppet as put forwards by Western media outlets.


For instance:

Lukashenko on several occasions has undermined Russian plans to deepen the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), e.g. shaking up plans for a common currency. At the last teleconference summit of the EAEU in May 2020, Belarus and Armenia blocked the Russian proposal for “strategic development until 2025”, citing above all, the need for the same prices for hydrocarbons across EAEU territories.


The strategic position of Belarus is very important to Russia. 

Russian hydrocarbons travel through Belarus to Europe.

Belarus is also holding back NATO from part of Russia's border.


The EU and the USA for years now, view Belarus as a “forbidden fruit”. For this reason, they pressured Lukashenko to “open” the country to the West, to proceed with political and economic “reforms”. They have been pressuring for decades, at times with the “carrot” (See “EU Eastern Partnership), but mainly with the “stick”, financing and training opposition forces, imposing sanctions on the leadership of Belarus, developing and strengthening NATO forces on its borders. 


Belarus is also the last country which China's Belt and Road Initiative will pass through before hitting Europe. It stands to reason China has a vested interest in a stable and co-operative Belarus.


As far as stability goes there are some real issues in the country:


Belarus situation key points


    • On the 9th of August of 2020 there took place elections in Belarus, with Lukashenko winning elections with 80% of the vote, whereas the closest rival Svetlana Tikhanovskaya got 10% percent of votes and the rest came in even further behind.

    • Various opposition candidates were barred for participating in this election and jailed or self-exiled.

    • Supporters of the opposition claimed election results are fake and called for the international community to recognise Tikhanovskaya as president of belarus. 

(Wikipedia claims Tikhanovskaya as president elect) 

    • Subsequently this caused the protests to occur and police were deployed which were meant to cause the protests to dissipate but instead led to growth

    • The protesters are made up of petty bourgeoisie (Small business owners) students and some sections of the working class.

    • The main figurehead of the protesters, or at least aims to be, is “Svetlana Tikhanovskaya” wife of blogger and businessman Sergei Tikhanovsky (Who was arrested on charges of obstructing elections)

    • Other figure heads include:

        ◦ Viktar Babaryka: former chairman of the board of belgazprombank who represents the interests of big business men (Also arrested on 18 July on charges of tax evasion and money laundering)

        ◦ Valery Tsepkalo: another businessman and founder of Hi-Tech Park who is in favour of privatising industrial enterprise and to integrate belarus into the world system, like joining Belarus to WTO (Who self-exiled since his candidacy was denied)

    • All of these oppositionists have in common the goal of opening Belarus to

    • The demands of the protesters, in essence, are to apply shock therapy (similar to Yeltsin’s shock therapy in Russia) by enacting widespread privatisation, casualising jobs, removal of price controls and to remove education standards, as well as Belarus to move away from Russia and move towards the west

    • The rutherian Belarus flag has become the symbol of the opposition, this was the flag of the Belarus puppet state of the German Empire during WWI and even used by nazi collbaorators during WWII

    • Of course some of the opposition and some of the reasons are indeed legitimate grievances against the current regime but overall the opposition stands to benefit western interests more than actually dealing with the problems of the country and grievances of the people



    • Has been in power since 1994 elections

    • The shock therapy applied to former soviet countries in the 90s did not get applied to Belarus but instead a slow move towards privatisation is taken. The 1993 constitutional crisis in Russia was a standoff between slow privatisation led by Alexander Rutskoy and shock therapy led by Boris Yelstin

    • Even under Lukashenko workers rights have been suffering, with the retirement age raised, enterprises privatised and trade unions suppressed, it is a battle over power between one group of capitalists over another group

   • Sections of police and military are loyal to Luklashenko but not total coverage. This leaves open the opportunity for opposition or foreign elements to attempt to get the security bodies to topple the government.

    • Lukashenko has been warming up relations to the west, but the west still has interests in removing Lukashenko from power.

    • Lukashenko has also been planning to move towards creating a union state of Belarus and Russia, although there are periodic tensions between the 2 countries, so far the plan either is stalled or moving forwards very slowly.



    • In summary; Lukashekno is no better than the opposition but the opposition is much worse, with the opposition making vague promises of “free and clean elections”,”freedom and democracy“ and “ending of dictatorship” when actually wanting to open the country to western control and as a buffer against Russia.

Meanwhile Lukashenko is slowly privatising the economy and opening up to the west given the difficult economic while workers rights are being eroded regardless if either Lukashenko or the opposition are in power, just one side wants to enact reforms much quicker and much more suddenly.


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Romina Beitseen and Andrew Irving