Staunton, September 2 – Joining Belarus to Russia would be “a very big error” for Moscow because Belarusians who are now angry at Lukashenka would direct their anger at Moscow and because they would become yet another unstable region, like the North Caucasus or Khabarovsk, within the country’s borders, Sergey Belanovsky says.
The Moscow sociologist says neither development is in Moscow’s interest and that it would be far better for the Kremlin to work toward the replacement of Lukashenka in such a way that Belarus would remain a separate country but prepared to cooperate with Russia on the most important issues (business-gazeta.ru/article/479557).
Many Russians understand that the two countries have lived separate lives for too long for Belarus simply to be absorbed. It has a very different social, economic and political experience than Russia, and it would not fit easily into the matrix Vladimir Putin has created in the Russian Federation.
Unfortunately, there is “an aggressive group” in Moscow, led by people like Vyacheslav Volodin and Margarita Simonyan who want Moscow to sent in troops and seize Belarus. Such a step, Belanovsky says, “would be “insanity and a catastrophe” even if that military action achieved its goal of making Belarus part of Russia.
“I am certain that we would obtain in place of Belarus a large and unstable region,” adding to Moscow’s problems, whereas a Belarus without Lukashenka could remain an ally sympathetic to Russia, the sociologist says on the basis of surveys he and others have conducted in recent months.
According to Belanovsky, Belarus is not Crimea. It hasn’t been subjected to a government that was interested in changing its ethnic identity as Russians in the now-occupied Ukrainian peninsula were. Instead, it has gotten used to being “a separate nation and state” and, while unification might have been possible in the 1990s, it isn’t something Belarusians want.
Calls for Belarusianization of the Belarus people have been limited, he continues; and most of the recent ones have been in response to Russian pressure rather than reflecting the desires of the Belarusian people as such. That trend would only be exacerbated if Moscow absorbed Belarus.
At the moment, Russia has not yet lost the war for “the hearts and minds of Belarusians.” “The Rubicon has not yet been passed as far as the Belarusians are concerned. They are still fighting with Lukashenka rather than Russia. “But if [Moscow] backs Lukashenka, anti-Russian slogans will arise.”
One thing getting in the way of an adequate understanding in Moscow of the Belarusian situation is the fear many in the regime have that what is going on in Belarus will somehow spread to Russia and that, to block that, Moscow must take action to kill this threat in its cradle. That danger is vastly overstated.
At the same time, however, “the situations in Belarus and in Khabarovsk Kray are very similar.” Arresting Furgal was “a ridiculous mistake,” and Moscow has only itself to blame. The authorities need to pay more attention to the population than they have and devote more resources to improving its standard of living.
So far, Belanovsky says, “protests in Russia are at the regional level;” but if the Kremlin makes “a federal mistake,” and absorbing Belarus could easily become one, then protests will multiply across the country and challenge the center. It still has resources to resist, but that may not always be the case.