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Events in Belarus have been on the top of key topics in the Kremlin for two months now. Work on interdepartmental integration is ongoing. Moscow is going to present the creation of the Union State as another victory equal to the capture of Crimea. Within the federation, it should look like a new national-saving idea, given by the “land collector” to the deep people.
However, the reaction of the world community to Russia’s involvement in the escalation of certain political events sooner or later passes the point of no return, receives a fair assessment and a worthy response.
For Russia, the point of no return in relations with Ukraine was the war – the annexation of Crimea and the direct aggression of the regular army against the sovereign state in Donbass, which has been going on for the seventh year.
In relations with the West – interference in elections, cyberattacks, demonstrative destruction of the opposition, as well as support for dictatorial regimes and terrorist organizations.
Lukashenka passed the point of no return in Belarus, who falsified the election results on August 9, secretly crowned himself on September 23 and continues to brutally suppress peaceful protests of citizens to this day. He made his choice in favor of his dictatorial rule, sacrificing the interests of society and finally trampling on his rights.
For Moscow, the point of no return in the Belarusian case has also been passed, it is just that it is not so obvious yet. The Kremlin’s involvement in the events in this country has become evident over the past two months.
Lukashenko has long ceased to suit Putin. He really played into a multi-vector approach, for decades maneuvering between currying favor with Europe and being dependent on his “older brother”. The fundamental differences became indisputable after last year’s December meeting in Sochi, during which a plan for economic integration and a number of other merger issues were to be agreed upon to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the Union Treaty. Slipping in their ratification fundamentally contradicted Putin’s Eurasian projects, or rather began to threaten them. Then the transition of power from Lukashenka to the pro-Russian candidate was launched to establish vassal relations at the initial stage, which should subsequently end with the abolition of the Belarusian statehood. At the same time, Russia began to actively sponsor some opposition figures through the Russian charitable foundation KSV, registered in Crimea in 2018. The necessary conditions for their entry into the political arena were also being prepared. The latter meant the initiation of mass popular discontent with the results of the presidential elections, provocation of actions of disobedience, cutting off any outside help for the Lukashenka regime and subsequently bringing their candidate to power in early elections.
To achieve his goal, Putin uses a technology that he has worked out well – the infiltration of “generalist” specialists into the occupied territory. First, on the eve of the elections, the Wagnerites appeared in Minsk, who in the amount of several hundred allegedly flew in transit, but in fact arrived in Minsk to escalate the protests. Then Putin formed a “reserve of law enforcement officers”, conducted military exercises “Slavic Brotherhood”, and made full use of more than “brotherly” relations between the security forces and the special services. All this speaks of a well-planned operation with constant monitoring of the development of the situation and the ability to influence the formation of the necessary trends in society.
Former Charge d’Affaires of Belarus in Switzerland Pavel Matsukevich said that Belarus is rapidly and imperceptibly moving towards full vassal dependence on Russia, preserving de jure sovereignty and independence.
However, incessant protests, the radicalization of popular anger, the sharp politicization and self-organization of the Belarusian people, the explosive growth of self-awareness and national identity, the desire for free and independent choice of the future of their country, threaten to frustrate the Kremlin’s plans.
As a result, Putin’s project began to stall.
On the one hand, despite dozens of dead, hundreds of missing persons, thousands of beaten and maimed, the popular protest did not drown. Persecution and torture, rubber bullets, flash and noise grenades, tear gas, water cannons did not stop people. On the contrary, the most active part of the Belarusian society became even more united, and a powerful volunteer movement began to develop at a rapid pace.
On the other hand, the renewal of sanctions pressure against the old regime, which all the institutions of the European community have recognized as illegitimate, as well as the institutionalization of Svetlana Tikhanovskaya in Europe as the leader of the Republic of Belarus, form the political subjectivity of the opposition movement in Belarus. The announcement by the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Russian Federation of the leader of the Coordination Council on the federal wanted list is intended rather to indicate Moscow’s position towards uncontrolled oppositionists, and not to interfere with its political activities as the leader of the protest against the Lukashenko regime.
On the third, at the moment a kind of parity has developed in Belarus – a peaceful protest (without transformation into a revolution) does not have enough strength to turn the situation in its favor, and the power support of the dictator is also at the limit of its “legal” powers. Lukashenko wants to suppress the protests, Putin is forcing him to do this, but he hesitates to give the order for mass lethal strangulation, which, if it happens, will certainly become a catalyst for a new round of escalation. At the same time, the rest of the state apparatus withdrew from the civil conflict in anticipation of a denouement.
Another alarming factor for the Kremlin was the tendency of some of the Belarusian law enforcement officers to take the side of the people. Since the refusal of the military to shoot at the people would mean the collapse of the regime and, accordingly, Putin’s plans, they decided to strengthen the last bastion of the dictatorship.
Having nothing in their arsenal, except for the policy of terror and blackmail, the Kremlin authorities are working out their own manuals. Moscow is quietly transporting the so-called construction crews to the Belarusian territory. Most of the “workers” are hired by the Belarusian holding company Triple to work on real construction sites. However, some of these “construction brigades” consist of Russian Cossacks. Their contribution to the annexation of Crimea is well known. Cossacks still maintain “order” in many resort towns of the peninsula. Putin revived the use of the Cossacks in the 21st century just for their “traditional” purpose – for external colonization and the imposition of Great Russian ideology. As a result, Cossack troops have become another type of private military company, which gives the Kremlin the opportunity to deny its direct involvement in war crimes. For the first time in the last century, the goals of the Cossacks and Moscow coincided – to jointly benefit from predatory raids on neighbors and their enslavement. The presence of literally “sent Cossacks” in Belarus is a very alarming signal, since Putin is using them to correct “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe.”
Obviously, in the near future, the Russian Cossacks, together with the unmarked security forces, should play their role in “pacifying” the Belarusians. This means that, in addition to political and economic levers, there remains a high probability of the Kremlin’s military intervention in the internal affairs of Belarus.
And the danger of Moscow’s management of the main state-forming processes in Minsk will persist until the Belarusians themselves begin to give a tough rebuff to external intervention.
The lightning-fast events in Bishkek showed that Lukashenka’s departure and the release of political prisoners should not be the ultimate goal. Minsk should not be satisfied with the rearrangement of beds, it needs a complete reboot. And this restart must take place without the slightest involvement of the “big brother”. Otherwise, “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 21st century” will be the vassalization of Belarus.