Meeting in Minsk against the Russian military air base, October 4, 2015 (Image: BelarusPartisan.org)
Few people have done more to unite and mobilize the Ukrainian nation than Vladimir Putin over the past 18 months. Now it appears the Kremlin leader has embarked on a similar unintended effort in Belarus where his plans to force Alyaksandr Lukashenka to agree to a Russian base have begun a rallying cry for the Belarusian opposition.
Yesterday, some 400 to 500 people assembled in Mensk – the figures are from the Russian TASS news agency and so unlikely to be an exaggeration to protest against Putin’s plans and Lukashenka’s apparent agreement to establish a Russian air base on Belarusian territory.
The hour-long meeting was peaceful, and no one was arrested, although several of the leaders were presented with protocols and police indicated that a court would take up the issue of their actions at a future session. But what was most striking is the way in which speakers linked foreign and domestic policies.
Uladzimir Nyaklyayew, one of the organizers of the meeting, used the occasion to announce the formation of a movement “For the Independence and Statehood of Belarus. He said that if it weren’t for the example of Ukraine and the Donbas, one could say put bases where you like. There are many foreign bases in the world.”
“But in Crimea, there was a military base from which they seized part of the territory of Ukraine. If that was the case there, then why should it not happen here?” he asked. Nyaklayew added that “we came to the square in order to say ‘no’ to the violation of the constitution… We do not intend to fight with anyone, and if we allow military bases, we will lose our neutrality.”
Nikolai Statkevich, another Belarusian opposition figure, also spoke to the crowd. He said that it is clear that “this military airbase is directed against Kyiv. We however do not want that from our land will come a danger for the fraternal Ukrainian people, even if it comes also from our neighboring fraternal people. We don’t need this.”
“The dictatorship is pushing us toward a global war and making us a target” so that Lukashenka can “sit in his chair for another year or two.” To achieve that, Statkevich said, risks making us “a possible victim even of nuclear strikes. Lukashenka is war,” he concluded.