Trump’s strange silence on Belarus
GIVEN HOW democracy has been thrust on the back foot in recent years, the outpouring of demands by the people of Belarus that their vote be respected — and not stolen — would seem a natural cause for the United States. Tens of thousands of people have protested and gone on strike in response to the blatant theft of their ballots in the Aug. 9 presidential election in which President Alexander Lukashenko declared himself the victor. But President Trump has hardly uttered a word about this popular uprising.
Well, he uttered a few words, nine days after the election was subverted by Mr. Lukashenko. “I like seeing democracy,” Mr. Trump said Tuesday. “ ‘Democracy’ is a very important word. It doesn’t seem like it’s too much democracy there, in Belarus.” He added that the protests were “peaceful,” saying nothing about the violent crackdown of Mr. Lukashenko’s government on the demonstrators. “I support democracy,” Mr. Trump said. “Okay, any other question?”
Yes, here are a few more questions: Why has the United States lost its voice about Belarus? Why has Mr. Trump, in particular, seemed to have cotton in his mouth when it comes to the courageous Belarus people who stood up to Mr. Lukashenko? Why has he not delivered a rousing speech calling on the strongman to heed the will of the voters, who by all accounts elected Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, leader of the opposition? Why doesn’t Mr. Trump impose sanctions on the Belarus officials who have savagely beaten detainees?
To be an outspoken exponent of democracy would be in keeping with American values and history, but Mr. Trump appears incapable of shouldering this mantle. He says “democracy” is a “very important word,” but he has no plan — or worse, no desire — to take action. Perhaps Mr. Trump is reluctant to upset Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has long aspired to convert Belarus into a province of Russia.
We think a previous Republican president, Ronald Reagan, would have delivered a speech or two by now.
While the European Union has offered a helping hand to the protesters, begun preparing sanctions against the Belarus officials responsible for brutality and started discussions on facilitating a transfer of power from Mr. Lukashenko, Mr. Trump has stopped short of all these actions.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has issued the usual statements in diplomatic language: “We remain deeply concerned by serious flaws” in the election and “strongly condemn” the wanton violence against protesters. That, too, is weak. Mr. Pompeo met Mr. Lukashenko in Minsk on Feb. 1 and attempted to woo him toward the West with a supply of oil and a promise to exchange ambassadors. The overture has now imploded. Mr. Pompeo should send a strong public signal to Mr. Lukashenko that, given the blatant theft of the people’s will, there won’t be business as usual with the United States.