“Maidan for us is unacceptable,” said President Alexander Lukashenko, referring to Kiev’s independence square, scene of protests that brought down Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich. “There will be no Maidans in Belarus.”
“We live in a rapidly changing world,” Lukashenko said in a speech marking the 70th anniversary of Soviet advances against the Nazis. “Here and there on the planet tensions erupt. So we must not lose vigilance. We should learn from the mistakes of others and not allow even the slightest manifestation of instability in our country.”
“Ukraine, which has become an arena for a clash between powerful internal and external forces, should be a lesson for us,” he said.
Lukashenko, a despot accused of rights abuses and vote-rigging who has been in power for 20 years, said “common characteristics” seen in countries where unrest has erupted include economic stagnation and societal strains that lead suffering people to “become blind instrument of destructive forces,” while foreign “well-wishers” fuel the flames.
He acknowledged that “even in our society there have been some tensions and fears for the security and stability of our country,” but assured his listeners at a Fatherland Defender and Armed Forces Day ceremony in Minsk that the armed forces would “preserve peace and stability in our land.”
After scores of protestors were killed in Kiev last week, Lukashenko sent a message of condolence to Yanukovich, stating that “Belarus has always condemned wrongful acts of the participants of political conflicts and unconstitutional methods of resolving domestic policy issues which inevitably lead to the escalation of violence.”
Wedged between Ukraine, Poland and Russia, Belarus has a population of 9.6 million and is slightly smaller than Kansas.
It is a member, along with Russia and Kazakhstan of President Vladimir Putin’s customs union, an ambitious plan for a Eurasian economic union to ultimately offer a counterweight to the European Union. (Putin had hoped to lure Ukraine into the union too, although the ousting of Yanukovich has thrown that into doubt.)
Belarus is also a member of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), often described as a Russia-led rival to NATO.
As such it has remained largely loyal to Russia, even as Ukraine and Georgia in recent years attracted the Kremlin’s ire for mulling closer ties to the E.U. and NATO.
Lukashenko visited Moscow in December, signing agreements with Putin on military-technical cooperation and information security and securing a pledge of $2 billion in loans this year.
Because of its political leanings and proximity to Ukraine, Belarus is considered one possible destination for Yanukovich, whose whereabouts remain unclear after he left Kiev on Saturday, initially flying to the city of Kharkov in Ukraine’s more Russia-friendly eastern region.
Lukashenko gave shelter to the leader of Kyrgyzstan, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, after he was toppled in 2010 following a violent crackdown on protests.
That same year, Belarus riot police were deployed against demonstrators who were protesting election fraud after Lukashenko won re-election, officially taking 79.7 percent of the votes. Many were beaten and hundreds of protestors, including seven presidential candidates were arrested during the crackdown.
In her 2005 Senate confirmation hearing, then secretary of state-designate Condoleezza Rice called Belarus an “outpost of tyranny,” drawing protests from Minsk, which criticized her for what it called “false stereotypes and prejudices.”