In Belarus, Lukashenko appears to resume repression

For background, see

“The democratic flame ignites in Belarus (Updated), The Trenchant Observer, August 14, 2020 (updated August 17).


On the eve of the 52nd anniversary of the Soviet and Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia, on August 20, 1968, foreign policy officials from Washington to Brussels to Berlin have their eyes trained on Moscow and Minsk, to see if Vladimir Putin will intervene in Belarus.

The invasion of Czechoslovakia by the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact countries overthrew the “Prague Spring” government of Alexander Dubček, a communist Party leader who sought to democratize the Party from within.

Now,in Belarus, the question is whether if push comes to shove, as it did with Viktor Yanukovych in Ukraine in February 2014, will Putin intervene to avoid a collapse of the government of Alexander Lukashenko?

The situation is fraught with risks for Putin and Russia, no matter what they do.


Here it is important to stress the relevance of international law.

Despite international agreements between Russia and Belarus, any military move by Moscow would be in open and flagrant violation of the prohibition against the international use of force which is the bedrock principle of the United Nations Charter.

The prohibition, contained in Article 2 paragraph 4 of the Charter, not only supersedes any contrary treaty provision, as provided in Article 103 of the Charter itself, but also constitutes a peremptory norm of international law or jus cogens, from which there can be no derogation under international law.

To be sure, Vladimir Putin has shown little regard for international law in general and Article 2 (4) of the U.N. Charter in particular, as revealed by his invasion and annexation of the Ukrainian Crimea in February and March 2014, and his subsequent invasion by military force of the Eastern Ukraine in the summer and fall of 2014. Russia, moreover, invaded Georgia in 2008, and still has military forces stationed in sections of that country.

It is hard to see how Russia will ever get the U.S. and EU sanctions imposed after its invasions of Ukraine lifted. Still, solutions are conceivable, if not at all likely at present.

However, if Putin and Russia intervene in Belarus, not only will new sanctions against Russia be imposed by the EU, and eventually by the U.S., but any hopes of getting the Ukrainian sanctions lifted will recede far into the future.


Lukashenko’s arrest of 7,000 demonstrators, and their brutal treatment while in prison, ignited the massive protests we have seen in recent days. In the face of this response, Lukashenko retreated, releasing several thousand demonstrators from prison and halting the aggressive use of the police.

He has called Putin several times to seek assurances of assistance if he needs it.

Yet Lukashenko has been adamant in rejecting calls for mediation of a transition, saying the only way demonstrators could remove him would be if they killed him. He was probably not thinking of Benito Mussolini’s transition in Italy when he made this comment.

Today, however, Lukashenko seems to be on a course of renewed repression.

Mería R. Sahuquillo and Bernardo de Miguel of El País report, at 8:02 p.m. Spanish time, that Lukashenko

has this Wednesday ordered his secret services to detain the organizers of the protests against his regime and the electoral manipulation and to repress any mobilization.  “There should not be any more disturbances in Minsk.  The people are tired, and demand peace and tranquility,” he emphasized after a meeting with his security council.

According to Christina Hebel of Der Spiegel, writing at 7:47 p.m., Lukashenko has sent police into large state factories where strikes have occurred, making some arrests.

Much will depend on how the protesters, and the state security forces, respond to these words and actions.


1) Mería R. Sahuquillo and Bernardo de Miguel (Moscú / Bruselas)), “Lukashenko ordena sofocar las protestas en Bielorrusia y detener a sus líderes; La UE redobla la presión para la salida del líder bielorruso, que planea reforzar su presencia militar en la frontera con Polonia y Lituania,” El País, 19 de Agosto 2020 (20:02).

2) Christina Hebel (Moskau) “Wie das Lukaschenko-Regime die Arbeiter unter Druck setzt; Lange galten die Arbeiter der staatlichen Unternehmen als treue Anhänger des Machthabers Lukaschenko. Jetzt wenden sich Tausende gegen ihn; Das Regime versucht, ihren Protest zu zermürben, Der Spiegel, den 19 August,2020 (19.47 Uhr).

The Trenchant Observer

About the Author

James Rowles
"The Trenchant Observer" is edited and published by James Rowles (aka "The Observer"), an author and international lawyer who has taught International Law, Human Rights, and Comparative Law at major U.S. universities, including Harvard, Brandeis, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Kansas. Dr. Rowles is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the Organization of American States OAS), in Wasington, D.C., , where he was in charge of Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and the United States, and also worked on complaints from and reports on other countries including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. As an international development expert, he has worked on Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Judicial Reform in a number of countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Russian Federation. In the private sector, Dr. Rowles has worked as an international attorney for a leading national law firm and major global companies, on joint ventures and other matters in a number of countries in Europe (including Russia and the Ukraine), throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Japan. The Trenchant Observer blog provides an unfiltered international perspective for news and opinion on current events, in their historical context, drawing on a daily review of leading German, French, Spanish and English newspapers as well as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other American newspapers, and on sources in other countries relevant to issues being analyzed. Dr. Rowles speaks fluent English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, and also knows other languages. He holds an S.J.D. or Doctor of Juridical Science in International Law from Harvard University, and a Doctor of Law (J.D.) and a Master of the Science of Law (J.S.M.=LL.M.), from Stanford University. As an undergraduate, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree, also from Stanford, where he graduated “With Great Distinction” (summa cum laude) and received the James Birdsall Weter Prize for the best Senior Honors Thesis in History. In addition to having taught as a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, Dr. Rowles has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs (CFIA). His fellowships include a Stanford Postdoctoral Fellowship in Law and Development, the Rómulo Gallegos Fellowship in International Human Rights awarded by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and a Harvard MacArthur Fellowship in International Peace and Security. Beyond his articles in The Trenchant Observer, he is the author of two books and numerous scholarly articles on subjects of international and comparative law. Currently he is working on a manuscript drawing on some the best articles that have appeared in the blog.