Friday, August 19, 2016

Putin May Invade Belarus Next, Illarionov Says, as Minsk Experts Urge Lukashenka to Prepare

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 19 – Russian analyst Andrey Illarionov says that Vladimir Putin’s provocation in Crimea last week is the result of the Kremlin’s assessment of the declining prospects of Donald Trump in the US presidential race and its typical tactic of diverting attention from where it in fact intends to move next.

            In a comment to Ukraine’s Gordon portal, he suggests that it cannot be excluded that the Kremlin leader will move against Belarus next and do so before the completion of the American election campaign (  

            Why did the Crimean provocation occur “precisely now?” Illarionov asks rhetorically suggesting that “until the end of July and the beginning of August, the planning of Kremlin actions was connected with the expectation of the results of the presidential elections in the United States.”

            “As long as Trump retained good chances to win, there was no need to take any action which might worsen his position. There was no reason to hurry.” But, once it became obvious that Trump was losing support and thus is unlikely to win, Moscow decided it needed to act and act before the November vote.

            After that time, Illarionov says, the Kremlin will find its situation worsened, “from its point of view, and if it is going to do something, it needs to do it before that date.” That is why the Crimean provocation happened, and why one can expect Putin to do something dramatic in the coming weeks.

            The Crimean event was a diversion, the analyst continues. “When Putin really intends to carry out some major operation, he doesn’t talk about it or about the preparation of forces for it. That was the case in Georgia, in Crimea and near Ilovaysk. It isn’t excluded that this all is an attempt to distract attention from another operation.”

            Moscow is constantly talking about the revival of a shock tank army, and it is creating one that many assume will be used against Ukraine. “But I have doubts about that,” Illarionov says.  The tanks and other heavy armor, things that can’t be moved quickly and without others being aware, are in the wrong place.

            They are very much where Moscow would want them if it were going to invade Belarus rather than Ukraine from a new direction. Consequently, while he says he very much hopes he is wrong, Illarionov concludes that “the next direction of a military strike by the Russian Federation could be Belarus.”

            Some in Belarus itself are very worried about that possibility.  And the Minsk Center for Strategic and Foreign Policy Research, which has often warned about Moscow’s intentions in the past ( and, has issued a new report about the risks and what Minsk should do about them.

            That 27-page report is available at and is summarized at  While it talks about threats to Belarus from both NATO and Russia, its key recommendations are about how to prevent Moscow from exploiting the situation to subordinate Minsk to its will.

            They include the following:

·         Minsk “must continue to realize its multi-vector foreign policy” so as to play one side off against the other and it must as part of this develop broad “cooperation and friendly relations with Ukraine.”

·         Belarus must continue to resist any effort to have a foreign base established on its territory. Given that only Russia wants one at present, that recommendation concerns only the Moscow direction.

·         Minsk must continue to work in integrative projects like the Union State with Russia not in order to reduce its sovereignty but to protect it.

·         Belarus must modernize its defense capability in order to “prevent and liquidate traditional and ‘hybrid’ military threats to its sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity and constitutional system.”

·         Minsk must promote transparency about what is occurring on its territory by inviting outside observers from both east and west to check on the situation there.

·         Minsk must at least in the short term avoid any large joint military exercises on its territory. These have been and would again in the future be only with Russia.

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