As Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi faces a stark choice of continuing to massacre his own people or escape the country, the Obama administration can defy conventional wisdom that says Washington has limited ability to influence events in Libya. Though the White House has just announced sanctions against Libya, it can still exert more sway over Mr. Qaddafi. It can do this by quietly encouraging its European, Russian, and Middle Eastern allies to exert influence on Qaddafi to flee to his closest military and political ally: the European dictatorship of Belarus.
While at first glance a European country may seem an unlikely place for Qaddafi to flee to, the reality is that Belarus is the most logical place for him to take refuge in and why the Obama administration should encourage this option before hundreds more innocent protesters die in Libya.
Belarus is the last dictatorship in Europe and is controlled by an erratic despot who is Qaddafi’s closest ally. It is also a country that in the past has reportedly provided covert military support to Libya in violation of United Nations arms sanctions and continues to be Libya’s weapons supplier of choice. It is fair to say that many of the Libyan warplanes and weaponry that are being used today to fire on innocent demonstrators have been supplied by Belarus.
In completely severing ties with the West over the last 17 years, Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko has made Qaddafi a key military, political, and economic partner, while also reportedly selling weapons to the majority of the countries on the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism.
Belarus – refuge of choice for despots
In addition, Belarus has been the refuge of choice for numerous former despots such as Kyrgyzstani President Kurmanbek Bakiyev and internationally wanted thugs such as notorious neo-Nazi Jurgen Graf. When Saddam Hussein’s closest aide, Abid Hamid Mahmud Tikriti, was apprehended at the start of the war in Iraq, US officials were alarmed to find him carrying Belarusian passports not only for himself but also for other high-ranking members of the former regime, including Mr. Hussein’s two infamous sons.
Besides Mr. Lukashenko’s colorful tirades against the United States and his public show of support for Qaddafi, political and economic contact has increased substantially over the last decade between Tripoli and Minsk – to the point where Belarus is the only realistic country where Qaddafi would flee to if he were to leave Libya.
Lukashenko, for his part, is becoming ever more isolated and erratic after a sham presidential election last December which was followed by a brutal crackdown on peaceful protesters the likes of which Europe has not seen in recent memory. Even Lukashenko’s historical big brother and protector, Russia, has begun to distance itself from his dangerous behavior. Lukashenko remains undaunted, craves the international spotlight, and would relish the attention that accepting Qaddafi would give him.
Giving Qaddafi asylum stops bloodshed
Ten years ago, when Slobodan Milosevic was being forced from power in Serbia by a revolution, Belarus was prepared to consider granting the Serbian dictator asylum, as he was among Lukashenko’s closest allies. But Mr. Milosevic, under the illusion that he would rise to power again, chose to stay in Belgrade – where he was eventually apprehended. This little known episode from recent history has not been lost on Qaddafi or Lukashenko.
The Obama administration should exploit this connection and encourage its allies in the region to nudge Qaddafi to flee to Belarus. This departure would be the best and fastest way to stop the bloodshed that Qaddafi is currently unleashing in Libya.
By granting Qaddafi asylum, Lukashenko would also show the his regime for what it is – a repository for washed up dictators who will eventually face collective justice when Belarus follows the revolutionary path of its North African client state, Libya.