Has Russia a Plan for Belarus?

In the context of events in Belarus the aspect of Russia emerges over and over. It’s no secret that Minsk is dependent on this neighbour country in an economic point of view. The issue of political relations is even more comp…

In the context of events in Belarus the aspect of Russia emerges over and over. It’s no secret that Minsk is dependent on this neighbour country in an economic point of view. The issue of political relations is even more complicated. It is obvious that Moscow does not want Belarus to leave its area of influence. Alexander Lukashenko and people, who are protesting against him, understand this.    
An interesting fact is that formal leaders of protests not only try to bring down the dictator but in parallel try to calm Moscow down. For instance, Sviatlana Cichanouskaya, who became the main opponent of Alexander Lukashenko in election, in her speech to the European Parliament emphasized ‘neutral’ geopolitical position of the current protests in Belarus. A peaceful revolution is taking place in Belarus. It is not geopolitical in its nature. It is neither Anti-Russian nor Pro-Russian. It is also neither Anti-European nor Pro-European. It is a democratic revolution’, she told.   
Alexander Lukashenko also decided to give up his rhetoric of the ‘threat from Russia’. We can remind that he tried to use this element in his pre-election campaign. Even so-called Wagner fighters (informal Russian military company) were arrested in the territory of Belarus, who previously distinguished themselves in Ukraine and Syria. It is presumed that these people were planning to go by transit from Belarus to a new mission in one of the hot spots of the world, however they were arrested by special services of Belarus. Then Alexander Lukashenko was telling that these people came purposely to Belarus with a goal to ‘destabilize the situation in the country’. Finally, the arrested fighters were sent back to Russia, although Ukraine was seeking extradition of some of them because of their participation in the conflict in Donbas. This might be considered as a message of Minsk to Moscow regarding going back to usual relations, particularly since escalation of the rhetoric ‘threat from Russia’ did not make any good to the leader of Belarus.  
In post-election rhetoric of Alexander Lukashenko, the West came back to the position of the main enemy. Leader of Belarus, who does not want to leave his position, in demonstration arranges military exercises at the border of Lithuania and Poland, sees conspiracy or the EU and NATO in everything what is going on in his country and so on. This rhetoric should satisfy Moscow, which sees united West as a source of so-called colour revolutions.
Anyway, what is the position of Russia in all this situation? It seems that for the meantime Moscow is just waiting and watching what turn all these events will take. The Kremlin in an odd way sends controversial signals. On one hand, it demonstrates a cautions support to Alexander Lukashenko. We can presume that he can expect help from Moscow, if he needs it. This support has been already given according to certain signs. For instance, representatives of media from Russia already came to Belarus, and replaced state media workers of Belarus, who are leaving their jobs and got tired of propaganda. Actually, Alexander Lukashenko also confirmed this fact. 
There was also some news that machinery of military and security services of Russia has been already moving towards the border of Belarus. Two convoys of the machines were already seen on 17 August. Actually, there is no information yet that these convoys crossed the border.    
On the other hand, Sergey Lavrov, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia, has officially announced that presidential election in Belarus was ‘not ideal’.  This is also a certain signal to Minsk that position of Moscow might change. Although Vladimir Putin was the first to congratulate Alexander Lukashenko with re-election. Moscow to a certain extent reserves its right to manoeuvre.
Is military intervention unlikely? 
The hottest issue remains whether Moscow can decide to start military intervention and its annexation to the Russian Federation? Up to now the opinion dominates that the Kremlin simply does not need that. Trying to summarize opinions of different experts we can just mention that the idea dominates that it would be very useless for Moscow, since it would change favourable opinion of Belarusian people about it and the West would not forgive this step – they would introduce even stricter sanctions after which Russia would risk to become a certain ‘new Iran‘, i.e. a state in the geopolitical margin. We should also mention that such step would become an excuse for NATO to increase its forces in the Baltic States, which is also not useful for Moscow, etc. 
By the way, all mentioned considerations are based on the assumptions that the Kremlin is acting in a rational way. In this area there are attempts to explain irrationality of annexation of Crimea by certain geopolitical sentiments and the fact that Russia actually was not expecting a strict reaction of the West.      
On the other hand, the author of this text thinks, that rationality is not the strongest side of the present Kremlin. It is likely that emotions (besides, emotions of just one person – Vladimir Putin) play a rather important role in the contemporary politics of Russia. A fear for colour revolutions and a potential threat to ‘lose Belarus’ in a political point of view may become a significant factor that can determine potential reaction and actions of Moscow. Let’s not forget that the war in Georgia in 2008 and annexation of Crimea in 2014 were also unlikely and unanticipated events. Thus, in this case, too, we cannot simply reject the probability of military intervention (possibly, hidden, indirect and hybrid).    
On the other hand, the truth is that the situation in Belarus is simply different from the situation in Maidan. Firstly, the victory of Maidan was more anticipated than potential success of the present protests in Belarus. A real political opposition existed in Ukraine and independently elected parliament was working. Actions of Maidan protestors were more decisive, while leaders of the present protests in Belarus expect ‘a dialogue with authorities’ and ‘peaceful transfer of powers’, forgetting that dictators are not ready to do so. They never give up power voluntarily.
Another even more important aspect to Moscow is that in Maidan case the question was directly about the development module of Ukraine and vector of integration. Not accidentally, the Maidan events often were called Euromaidan. In case of Belarus, as it has ben mentioned already, the European vector is not being emphasized and existence of the Union of Russia and Belarus is not even questioned. Besides, Sviatlana Tsychanouskaya is seen just a nominal ‘Pro-European’ leader – we can notice that she avoids such an image to a certain extent.   
Thus, Moscow might not be afraid to lose Belarus despite the fact what turn further events will take.  All versions are acceptable to the Kremlin. If Alexander Lukashenko remains in power with the help of the Kremlin – he will become a total puppet leader of the country and sovereignty of Belarus will be actually limited. In case protestors win – any other new leader of the country will have to take into consideration both economic dependence of Belarus from Russia and the threat of military intervention if the Kremlin has the slightest suspicion that the country might start drifting towards the EU and NATO. Thus, we can just state that in any case Belarus will remain in the zone of influence and direct impact of Moscow and this is the main factor that might have influence on decisions of the Kremlin in this situation. Thus, Moscow does not need a specific plan to Belarus. As it has been already mentioned, a reaction according to the situation is enough.             
Viktor Denisenko

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