Lukashenko Saved the Day. Wait, Lukashenko?

Belarus leader is making the most of his PR moment, but analysts are skeptical
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 26, 2023 8:22 AM CDT
Lukashenko Saved the Day. Wait, Lukashenko?
In this June 9 photo, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko and Vladimir Putin are pictured in the resort city of Sochi, Russia.   (Gavriil Grigorov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP, File)

Russia appeared to be very much on the brink of what Vladimir Putin called a "civil war" when an unexpected savior emerged to broker a deal: Belarus leader Alexander Lukashenko. Or at least, that is the official version being told by state media in Belarus. The rest of the world has its eyebrows raised in skepticism that Lukashenko has that kind of clout. Though he has ruled the former Soviet state of Belarus for nearly three decades, Lukashenko is described in analyses as a "docile satrap" of Putin (the New York Times) and as a "frail provisional satrap" (the Guardian). Satrap refers to a provincial governor in ancient Persia, meaning Lukashenko is seen not as a ruler in his own right but as one who governs at the whim of Putin.

By the account of Belarus state media, Lukashenko got on the phone with Wagner Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin as Wagner tanks were rolling toward Moscow and worked out a deal to stop the rebellion. "The president of Russia supported and thanked his Belarusian counterpart for the work done," said a statement from his office. The Kremlin has a similar line: "You will probably ask me—why Lukashenko?" said spokesperson Dmitry Peskov. "The fact is that Alexander Grigoryevich (Lukashenko) has known Prigozhin personally for a long time, for about 20 years. And it was his personal proposal, which was agreed with President Putin. We are grateful to the President of Belarus for these efforts."

But the narrative "stretches credibility to the limit," per an analysis at CNN. "I don't think it was Lukashenko's own will," Katia Glod of the European Leadership Network in London tells the South China Morning Post. "I think he was used by the Kremlin. He would rather not have Prigozhin." Still, the deal does give Lukashenko (also described by the Times as an "international pariah") some rare positive headlines—"the biggest advantage that Lukashenko gains from (the) incident is looking like a worthy interlocutor in the region again," is how an assessment at AFP puts it. But the piece, like the others, also points out that Lukashenko's fate is very much tied up with Putin's, which may not bode well for him in the long run. (More Russia rebellion stories.)

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