Staunton, October 3 – The Kremlin is now putting in place a new strategy to deal with shaky allies like Belarus and Armenia: encourage protests against their governments in order that the latter will crack down in ways that will alienate the West and force these countries back into Moscow’s embrace, according to Yuri Tsarik.
The analyst at the Minsk Center for Strategic and Foreign Policy Questions says that “to frighten the Belarusian authorities with ‘protests, to provoke them to harsh actions, to stop the normalization of relations with the West and then to emerge as the only guarantor of security is [Moscow’s] ‘Crimean’ scenario for Belarus” (belaruspartisan.org/politic/350986/nmnby.eu/news/analytics/6116.html).
Precisely what that would look like in Belarus is now very much on view in Yerevan, where opposition groups and the government have been fighting one another for the last few weeks. That Moscow is applying this strategy in Armenia means that Belarusians must take seriously the possibility that it will soon be applied in their country as well.
Armenia has another critical lesson for Minsk as well. Agreeing to have a Russian military base on one’s national territory is no guarantee that Moscow will not make use of its leverage to destabilize and even replace the government that agreed to that basing, Tsarik continues.
There is some evidence that the Belarusian authorities are taking this analysis seriously. Earlier this week, after largely ignoring the issue for some months, Belarusian state media rose, in the words of the Belaruspartisan portal, “up in arms” about the Russian “patriotic” training camps in Belarus (belaruspartisan.org/politic/350913/).
(For background on these camps, Russia’s role in them, and the ideological messages they are conveying to young Belarusians, see windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2015/11/russian-orthodox-church-in-belarus.html and windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2016/05/moscow-now-training-belarusians-in.html.)
“Considering that in the media censored by the authorities not one word is spoken by accident,” Belaruspartisan says, “one must conclude that the Belarusian regime is seriously concerned by Russian ‘patriotic’ education of Belarusian youths and possibly also by pro-Russian attitudes in Belarus as a whole.”
But Tsarik’s analysis of the Armenian situation suggests that the instability Moscow wants in a country that isn’t following its line could come from those committed to anti-Russian positions. The only thing Moscow is interested in, according to Tsarik, is provoking a harsh government response that will leave the regimes with nowhere to turn but Russia.