Indeed, Tsarik argues, Lukashenka has laid out an entirely new and more robust border defense plan with regard to Russia by talking about how he believes Minsk must respond to Ukraine, a much less politically explosive issue but a useful one for him because it allows for a discussion of border security issues in general and thus of the Russian one in particular.
There are two aspects of the Belarusian border security strategy document that are significant, the analyst says. On the one hand, that document includes the key provisions of the Belarusian military doctrine; and on the other, it makes only a single passing reference to the Union State and thus to the Russian-Belarusian border.
“In other words,” Tsarik says, this document clearly means that “Belarus considers as being part of its national interest the international-legal formulation of borders, the establishment of a border regime, and its preservation as important everywhere, including on the border with the Russian Federation.”
It doesn’t distinguish the Russian portion of the border from the Ukrainian portion in this regard, thus allowing Lukashenka’s discussions about the one to be applied to the other. And that includes his remarks about increasing the size of border guard forces as he did a week ago (president.gov.by/ru/news_ru/view/rabochaja-poezdka-v-grodnenskuju-oblast-19724/).
Given manpower problems, increasing it might require cutting the size of the army unless new potential soldiers are identified, something Minsk now is clearly working on, Tsarik says (president.gov.by/ru/news_ru/view/rabochaja-poezdka-v-brestskuju-oblast-18829/). And that fact underscores that talk about borders is really talk about national security more broadly.
As noted, the Minsk analyst says, Lukashenka’s discussion of border security is “about completely lacking of any integrationist rhetoric.” Instead, it contains references to strengthening national defense including against hybrid attacks and in demonstrating Belarus’ ability to autonomously contribute to the defense of the Union State.
That is less a concession to Moscow than it might appear at first glance, Tsarik says. Instead, it is part of an effort by Lukashenka to block Russian demands for the opening of a Russian base on Belarusian territory and to attract assistance from Western governments so that he can continue to stand up to Moscow.
“Of course,” Tsarik says, “one should not call the defense policy of the Belarusian leadership or its foreign policy either ‘anti-Russian.’ Rather it is a multi-vector one and directed at providing Minsk with greater independence in the sphere of national, military and border security.” Belarus’ ability to move in that direction is limited but it is not nonexistent.
A major determinant of how far Minsk can go in this direction, of course, is the attitude of the Belarusian population and that attitude will be profoundly affected by whether Lukashenka moves toward reform or not, something he has no choice but to begin given the restrictions Russia is now subject to.
“Under these conditions,” Tsarik says, “a pro-Western and/or nationalist geopolitical vector is firmly associated with reforms … while a pro-Russian one is connected with a rejection of reforms and the preservation of a ‘neo-Soviet’ administrative system.” That gives hope for reform and for a greater role by Western countries.
Minsk is counting on receiving financial support and technology from the West which will “allow it to keep Belarus independent and the current political regime unchanged,” Tsarik says; but it recognizes that it cannot avoid reforms if it is going to achieve those goals. And that has an important consequence which Lukashenka’s talk about the Ukrainian border hints at.
“The political regime in Belarus for self-preservation and for the maintenance of the independence of the country in the near future will be forced to change its modus operandi, its social base and its ideological foundation,” the Minsk analyst says. It could of course try to adopt the North Korean model; but no one in Belarus wants that.
Given its goals, Tsarik argues, Minsk’s best choice “could be a combination of scientifically based liberal approaches in economics and state administration with an up to date and adaptable approach to the provision of national security.”
Achieving that “positive result,” of course, “won’t be a simple task.” It will require understanding from both the Belarusian population and the West; but it may be the only way that Belarus and Lukashenka personally can retain their independence from Russia and thus their freedom of action.