• Belarus' Balancing Act

    Belarus is attempting a delicate diplomatic dance as it attempts to thaw its relationship with the West while preserving its longstanding relationship with Russia.

    “We want the best possible relationship with Russia and a normalized relationship with the West,” Belarusian Deputy Foreign Minister Oleg Kravchenko said at the Atlantic Council on January 30, lamenting the growing tensions between Russia and the United States and its European allies.

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  • Herbst Quoted in Newsweek on Belarus's Claims of Protecting the West

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  • Mass Detention of Journalists Exposes Emerging Shifts in Belarus

    Around two dozen high-profile journalists were recently detained in Belarus in one of the biggest intimidation campaigns in years. The details of this sudden and surprising sweep highlight growing tensions in the country, where the authoritarian regime of President Alexander Lukashenka is seeking a balance between necessary pro-market reforms and its preservation.
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  • Why the Internet May Save Us After All

    New Activists in Belarus and Russia Take to the Streets after Videos and Memes Spread

    On a single weekend in March, Russia and Belarus witnessed their largest protests in five years. Both countries have seen major street demonstrations in the past, but these were different and catalyzed by social media. The widespread use of online networks drew thousands of new faces to the streets, and these protests may herald the arrival of a new political class in both Minsk and Moscow.

    By necessity, most political organizing in Russia and Belarus had moved to closed channels over the past few years. “The big trend we’re seeing is a shift to group messaging services like Telegram, WhatsApp, even Facebook messenger,” said Chris Doten, Chief Innovation Officer at the US-based National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI).

    Among Russian oppositionists, protesters are advised to avoid using Russian social network VKontakte (VK) in their organizing activity, “because the authorities monitor [it] very, very closely. It’s not necessarily compromised, but it’s too public,” said Aric Toler of the online investigative team Bellingcat.

    Citizens living under authoritarian regimes around the world have reason to be concerned about what they’re posting online, according to Doten. “Activists are at risk for hacking and [online] surveillance,” which Doten says can feed digital disinformation. Authoritarian governments often engage in censorship or “selective manipulation by constraining the pipe through which information flows,” he said.

    These trends are evident in both Russia and Belarus. In Russia, citizens have been imprisoned for their online activity, while the government continues its whack-a-mole strategy of blocking material it finds politically inconvenient. Belarus’s state-owned Internet provider regularly blocks access to opposition websites, particularly at politically sensitive times.

    In spite of this danger, when thousands of Russians took to the streets in March, calls to action cropped up on YouTube, VK, and another Russian-language network, Odnoklassniki, bringing many new protesters to the streets.

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  • Fishman Quoted by Reuters on US Renewal of Belarus Sanctions Relief

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  • More Solidarity with Ukraine Needed, Say Speakers at the Kyiv Security Forum

    The Tenth Kyiv Security Forum—an important foreign affairs conference conducted annually by the Open Ukraine Foundation—occurred on April 6-7. Headed by Ukraine’s former Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk and his wife Terezia, the conference underscored an important message: the need for the West to stay engaged and maintain security in the borderlands between Russia and Central Europe, particularly in Ukraine, the most important country in Eastern Europe between the Baltic and Black seas.

    This year, the tenth anniversary event was titled "Old Conflicts and New Trends: Strategies for a Changing World.” For Ukraine today, security challenges are defined by the continuing war in the east, the occupation of Crimea, the new US administration’s efforts to find its own voice, and Europe’s ongoing crises and weaknesses.

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  • Is Belarus Coming Unglued Too?

    The brief honeymoon between Belarus and the West is over after a brutal crackdown last month in Minsk. Almost one thousand people were detained, many were beaten and jailed—including international journalists and human rights defenders—and dozens may face long-term imprisonment on trumped-up charges. State propaganda claims that protesters were involved in “extremist activities supported by Ukraine, Poland, and the West in general.”

    The explanation that has been given to the West is different: it’s all Russia’s fault. According to Belarusian officials, Russia inspired the protests to destabilize Belarus and damage its recently improved relationship with the West. After all, Russia wants to keep Belarus in its orbit.

    Both explanations are wrong.

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  • Speckhard in US News: Time For a New Approach to Belarus

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  • Eastern Europe Must Prepare for the Worst about Trump

    President Barack Obama’s advice to the world that it shouldn’t “assume the worst” about Donald Trump may apply to countries whose existential interests cannot be threatened by the president-elect’s policies, but those that face a possible Russian invasion must assume and prepare for the worst.

    They cannot, as Obama recommended, “wait until the administration is in place” and then “make your judgments as to whether or not it’s consistent with the international community’s interest in living in peace and prosperity together.”

    Russian President Vladimir Putin’s tanks could be on the outskirts of Estonian capital Tallinn by then.

    No one knows what the Trump administration’s foreign policy will be. That said, his extreme disregard for the European Union, NATO, NAFTA, the WTO, and international law and his continual trumpeting of American interests suggest that, at best, he may be indifferent to Putin’s aggression in Eastern Europe or, at worst, he may even facilitate it by encouraging Russia to establish a sphere of influence.

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  • The Dissolution of the Soviet Union: Then and Now

    Former Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk still believes deeply in the power of international norms to maintain peace.

    “Today’s world is based on great principles: sovereignty, territorial integrity, and untouchable borders. And as far as I understand the situation, the United States is the guardian of these principles,” said Kravchuk at an event on November 18, in response to a question about US President-elect Donald Trump’s possible plans to recognize Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

    “If the nations of the world ever for a second assume that the world powers, and first of all the United States, are going to sacrifice the interest of one nation for other interests, it’s going to be the end of the world order,” he said. He hastened to add, however, that he would not judge Trump’s comments until he becomes president on January 20.

    Kravchuk was speaking at the Atlantic Council together with former Belarusian President Stanislau Shushkevich and former Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation Gennady Burbulis. The three men discussed the dissolution of the Soviet Union twenty-five years ago, their roles in that momentous event, and the ensuing challenges in the region.

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