The great drama around elections in Belarus is matched only by the great indifference of the United States.
Consider what’s happening.
Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, the principal opposition candidate, has fled to Lithuania, along with her campaign manager Maria Moroz, who had been in detention for days. The head of Belarus’s secret police, which is still known as KGB, its Soviet-era name, has been quoted to say that his agency had foiled an assassination attempt on Ms Tikhanovskaya. The claim is puzzling because official results don’t suggest that anyone – and particularly, not voters – cared about Ms Tikhanovskaya. She is officially said to have won only 10 per cent of the vote. The country’s longtime ruler, Alexander Lukashenko, won 80 per cent.
But many in Belarus don’t believe the results and have been protesting on the streets. The Belarusian interior ministry reported that some 3,000 people were detained nationwide for participating in unauthorized protests. The authorities have shut down subway stations, sealed off roads in the capital Minsk and sent in armed security forces.
Meanwhile, Russian president Vladimir Putin speedily congratulated Mr Lukashenko on his electoral win and expressed the hope that both countries will expand their integration. Many are reading the message as code. In exchange for deeper integration, Russia will offer Mr Lukashenko support in the face of a domestic challenge and criticism from Europe, mostly led by Poland. If the situation escalates, expect to see “little green men” (remember Ukraine?) in Belarus.
In all of this, the United States has had only this to say. Donald Trump’s Secretary of State Mike Pompeo put out a statement, which claimed the United States is “deeply concerned about the conduct” of Sunday’s election. The poll, he noted in a massive understatement, “was not free and fair.” And finally, Mr Pompeo urged Mr Lukashenko’s government to refrain from the use of force and to release those wrongfully detained.