“De jure,” Zhelenin says, “Belarus already for a long time has been part of a single Union State with Russia.” But that state in fact “exists mainly on paper,” although Moscow for its part has been signaling in recent months that it is time, in the words for Duma speaker Vyacheslav Volodin to “fill it with new content.”
The problem for Moscow is that Moscow faces an obstacle to the realization of its plans. And that is Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, who as a result of his own intense efforts, has kept his country independent. “That isn’t a very firm basis for genuine sovereignty, but it is what it is …”
Relations between Moscow and Minsk have deteriorated to the point that a month ago, Andrey Sudaltsev, a specialist on Belarus at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics, said that “the cause of the worsening of the health of the Belarusian leader was Putin.” And Belarusian analyst Pavel Usov said Putin needs a cheap victory and Belarus is an obvious target, especially if the first stage is the establishment of a Russian military base there.
According to Usov, Putin has leverage on Lukashenka because of the Kremlin leader’s knowledge about Lukashenka’s involvement in the kidnapping and murder of Belarusian opposition figures, something Minsk has tried to hide and that Moscow hitherto has not threatened to expose.
“But Putin wouldn’t be Putin if he acted only with a stick. For Lukashenka, [the Kremlin leader] naturally has a significant carrot” as well,” Zhelenin says. One “carrot” might be a lifetime sinecure for Lukashenka as president of the Council of the Union State.” But given Lukashenka’s ambitions, that isn’t enough – and Putin may not be able to offer enough either.
An indication that Lukashenka is under pressure and has no intention of backing down was his “pathetic declaration” after his June meeting with Putin that “we are at the front and if we do not hold out,” that would mean the end of Belarus or the unleashing of a war “like the one in Ukraine.”
Lukashenka isn’t going to be satisfied with the appearance of power in either Minsk or Moscow, and Putin isn’t going to be willing to give him real power in Moscow. Consequently, the Belarusian leader has to defend Belarus in order to defend his own power, the Rosbalt commentator argues.
That explains why Putin has installed Babich in Minsk, Zhelenin says. “According to Usov, “Babich is not that type of diplomat who must resolve disputes and not allow confrontations between the governments. He must provoke and create conditions in which these conflicts will as before appear.”
“Besides his formal activity, Babich will be involved in informal activities connected with the support of various pro-Russian groups, the so-called representatives of ‘the Russian world’ in Belarus,” the Belarusian analyst continues.
“In other words,” Zhelenin concludes, “one can say that with the appointment of BAbich to the post of Russian ambassador in Minsk, Moscow has moved to swallow up Belarus. What Lukashenka can do to oppose this course, and whether he will seriously try to do so, is still difficult to say.”