Sunday, November 13, 2016

Trump’s Election Seen Reducing Minsk’s Chance for ‘Moderately Independent Foreign Policy’

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 13 – Under President Donald Trump, a Belarusian commentator says, Washington will set the level of its relations with Belarus “if not exclusively than primarily through the prism of its own affairs on the Russian front,” a situation that does not bode well for Minsk’s desire to avoid becoming more dependent on Moscow.

            According to Andrey Fedorov, Washington’s approach to Minsk can and likely will vary over time, but viewed from the present, there are “only three more or less real scenarios” or categories into which these bilateral relations will fall (

            The first scenario involves “a return to the Yalta-Potsdam system,” in which Trump would allow Russia to treat the territory of the former USSR as its zone of exclusive interests and one in which Moscow would de facto have carte blanche to act in any way it sees fit” in that region.

            If that happens, Fedorov says, there will be little chance for Belarus and the other former Soviet republics to “escape from total dependence on Russia.”  There simply won’t be the resources available to them that even limited support from the West have provided them up to now.

            The second scenario would be “the renewal of a full-blown cold war,” the Belarusian analyst says.  As many commentators have pointed out, the Washington establishment, even afte Trump’s election, is unlikely to be willing to engage in a second “reset” or meet all of Vladimir Putin’s demands – including a pullback of NATO forces from Russia’s borders.

            Indeed, he says, “it is extremely doubtful that the newly elected president will be able to or will even want to fulfill these demands” from the Kremlin. But if a new cold war develops, Fedorov continues, that has serious consequences for all the post-Soviet states and for Belarus in particular.

            If events develop in that direction, he argues, “any deviation by Belarus from the position of Russia will be considered by [Moscow] as betrayal with all the ensuing consequences, including armed annexation” of the country even if the West tried somehow to support Minsk in such a conflict with Moscow.

            Consequently, Fedorov says, “the result for Belarus would be approximately the same as under the previous [scenario].”

            The third scenario the Minsk analyst outlines is “a continuation of the status quo,”  the one that would be “the most favorable for Belarus” of all the possibilities.  Minsk would not face a Russian intervention but would have some latitude to follow a more or less independent line in foreign policy.

            “In other words,” he says, this would continue the existing situation, allowing Minsk to “normalize bilateral relations” with Washington, and possibly “lead to the symbolic step of a return to the exchange of ambassadors.”

            Unfortunately for Belarus, Fedorov says, there is no clear indication of just how President Trump will proceed. He is too unpredictable to give a clear answer. But the Belarusian analyst says that “what is now known about the new leader in the White House does not inspire much optimism” in Minsk.

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