Interview: Belarus Pundits On Economic Impact Of COVID-19, Upcoming Presidential Polls
Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Strategic Analysis, Fuad Mukhtarli has interviewed pundits from the Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies (BSIS) to get their perspectives on the raging Covid-19 pandemic and how Belarus was navigating through invisible pandemic as well as the upcoming presidential elections the country is planning to hold on 9 August.
Among issues covered were also Belarus’ policies vis-à-vis Russia, the Baltic nations, relations between Minsk and Baku plus its attitude towards warming ties with the West in the light of a rare visit from US State Secretary Mike Pompeo some time ago.
Strati’s interviewees were Piotr Rudkouski, Academic Director at the Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies (BISS), and Vadim Mojeiko, BISS analyst.
On Belarus’ approach to coronavirus, Piotr Rudkouski drew attention to liberal measures that the Belarus government is practicing, that is, wearing facemasks is not compulsory across the country and no restrictions are on free movement of people and only staffers of public facilities, shops, plants, banks, government institutions are advised to wear masks. Recommendations are in place to keep people aware with floor marks indicating the need to keeping social distance among others.
Asked by Strati what makes Belarus distinct with regard to the pandemic when all its neighbors have taken precautionary measures to protect themselves from the disease, Belarus’ attitude resembles a kind of “caution is the parent of safety” and it continues with holding the national football championship and fixes a date for the next presidential elections in August 2020, Piotr Rudkouski opined that when it comes to the reaction to the pandemic, “many point to economic reasons” and that “the authorities and Alexander Lukashenko in particular feared economic collapse and that it might bode bad ahead of the presidential elections”.
Although a lockdown or tough restrictions are characteristic of authoritarian leaders, the Belarus leaders has not applied them but chosen a liberal approach, the pundit said. Nevertheless, he believes that time will show how right were those who applied stricter restrictions or wise versa.
Linking pandemic to the upcoming presidential elections, he said polls showed the public opinion is negative of Lukashenko’s handling of the virus. The pundit added that nevertheless the Belarus president is best at presenting himself to society from a positive angle though reports showing that his popularity remains lower than officials claim.
As for the relations with Russia and Lukashenko’s anti-Russian rhetoric, the pundits are certain that there is nothing new as it goes back to late 1990 though he was proponent of closer relations with Moscow. However, pundits believe that starting from 2000, Lukashenko remodified his attitude towards Moscow and the Kremlin has accustomed to him. At the same time, the Belarus president refocused his attention from closer ties with Moscow to pro-Belarus agenda and issues of strengthening independence.
About the relations between Azerbaijan and Belarus, the pundits said Lukashenko has found Azerbaijan as a reliable economic partner and views it as a supporter when it comes to domestic independence as the Belarus leader is for predictability, stability and for this reason, he backs ties with China.
On one of the presidential hopefuls – who runs a bank in Belarus linked to Russia, the experts believe he cannot be described as Moscow’s man though he might be a tough rival though the election control is well-managed by pro-government institutions.
The Institute for Strategic Analysis, Strati, is expanding a range of products it makes, shifting from traditional coverage of the regions on its radar to multimedia products.
Full recording of the interview: