Soviet Union 2.0

14 September 2020


Cogito Ergo Non Serviam

Russian Support for Belarus May Require "Integration"


Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin met in Sochi today to discuss the current unrest in Belarus. The Kremlin issued a statement saying that the agenda included "the prospects for promoting integration processes within the Union State." This refers to a 1999 treaty of union that allows free travel and settlement between the two countries. Belarus has resisted further integration for the past 20 years, but it is growing more certain that the price for Mr. Lukashenko of staying in power is surrendering to Moscow's desires.

Vladimir Putin has said that the greatest geopolitical disaster of the twentieth century was the implosion of the Soviet Union. The treaty with Belarus is an attempt to begin re-establishing the USSR in some form or another. Above all, the objective has been to keep Belarus from falling into the orbit of the west, as has happened in Ukraine.

Mr. Lukashenko understands that his position in a more unified state would be that of a Quisling, and that is a hard thing for a dictator with 26 years of unbridled power under his belt to accept. The parallel of the German-Austrian Anschluss in 1938 is too obvious to ignore. For Lukashenko, the role of Kurt Schuschnigg is hardly one that carries any appeal. The former Austrian leader wound up in a concentration camp and died in the US as an academic after the war.

So, he has resisted closer integration with Moscow at every turn. Back in February, the two leaders met, and when Mr. Lukashenko declined to accept greater integration, Moscow stopped delivery of discounted oil to Belarus. Lukashenko responded by going to other suppliers, including the US. His thinking must have been that if his country had to pay market prices, he could at least buy from someone other than the Russians.

When Mr. Lukashenko ran into massive resistance to his theft of the most recent election, Moscow sat on its hands to see what he would do. "For two weeks, the Kremlin watched closely to see whether Lukashenko was determined enough to cling on to power, whether there was a split within the elite, whether the security services would betray him," Carnegie Moscow Center's Alexander Baunov wrote in a recent commentary. "Satisfied that Lukashenko was indeed determined enough, and that there was no division, the Kremlin made the decision once and for all to support him."

However, that support has given Mr. Lukashenko some room to maneuver. He has exiled or arrested opponents, and the fact that there is no one able to stand against him takes some of Moscow's leverage away because there is no alternative to back. Given the choice between a hostile neighbor and a collapsed state on its border, Russia prefers hostility. It gives Mr. Putin a boogeyman rather than creates a source of instability in Russia.

Artyom Shraibman of Sense Analytics, a Minsk-based political consultancy, stated "Russia does not have many alternatives in Belarus. If Lukashenko refuses to satisfy some very ambitious demands of Russia, what choice does Russia have? To intervene militarily? To occupy the country? To stop giving Belarus new loans? Well, then Lukashenko will stop paying the old loans. This is not as easy as it might seem. Lukashenko's weakened legitimacy is not a prize for Russia, it's a problem for Russia."

Nevertheless, Mr. Lukashenko is going to have to practice greater cooperation with Russia de facto if not de jure. As this is being posted, Russian and Belarusian troops are preparing a joint military exercise near the Belarusian city of Brest. Once Russian troops are there, will they leave?

© Copyright 2020 by The Kensington Review, Jeff Myhre, PhD, Editor. No part of this publication may be reproduced without written consent. Produced using Ubuntu Linux.

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