Sunday, August 26, 2018

Putin’s Imposition of Babich on Belarus Signals a New Kremlin Approach to CIS Countries, Baranchik Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 26 – Vladimir Putin’s imposition of Mikhail Babich as his man in Minsk has already been declared a serious defeat for Alyaksandr Lukashenka and his country (, and

            But this action may have even more profound and widespread consequences, Russian nationalist commentator Yury Baranchik says, marking a new departure for Moscow’s policy toward the CIS and even “the ingathering of lands” of those countries “beginning with Belarus” (

            The way Babich was imposed on Belarus “undoubtedly is a turning point not only in Belarusian-Russian relations,” the commentator says; but it is also for Russian policy in the entire post-Soviet space. As such, it merits particular attention.

            Even the formalities of the appointment show this, he says. Putin appointed Babich rather than Babich being received by Lukashenka and the Kremlin leader imposed not only an ambassador but simultaneously someone with the status of a special representative of the Russian president

                “This is only the third such case, with the two previous being in Ukraine, with Viktor Chernomyrdin and Mikhail Zurabov.  Given how things have developed in that country, it is obvious that what Putin has done is absolutely “correct,” especially given the recent deterioration of relations between Moscow and Minsk.

            “However, the most important aspect of this situation consists not so much in the foreign policy realm as in the domestic Russian one, since the post of special representative in fact has great important not in foreign but in domestic policy,” Baranchik says.

            “The status of special representative says that Moscow needed an effective anti-crisis coordinator of Russian interests and lobbyists in the Belarusian direction,” something it clearly has not had in Minsk up to now. Someone who is only an ambassador cannot hope to play that role.

            Given his status as a special representative, the new ambassador in fact gets out from under the Russian foreign ministry and puts him on a level with a minister or even a deputy prime minister, Baranchik says, thus making him the key player in the Belarusian direction for Russian firms and institutions.

            The Russian commentator then lists eight changes which Babich’s appointment represents, changes which he says should now “become a model for relations of all the republics of the former Soviet Union.” (emphasis supplied)

·         First, Babich’s appointment marks “the end of an era of Russian powerlessness” in Belarus. Now all Belarusians know that opposing Russian interests or challenge Moscow’s position not only is to oppose Putin but to put themselves at risk of losing their positions.

·         Second, his appointment will strengthen Lukashenka’s hand in dealing with his subordinates who no longer fear him or fear Moscow and thus are looking to the West instead. Babich will stiffen Lukashenka’s spine in enforcing discipline.

·         Third, Babich will in time also oversee the “upcoming transition of power” in Minsk in which Lukashenka will be replaced by someone more loyal to Moscow.

·         Fourth, Babich will also help to “impose order in the ideological sphere” in Belarus and mobilize the population there to back the Moscow-Minsk agenda.

·         Fifth, the new appointment shows that “Moscow is finally in a position and is ready to carry out an active foreign policy line on the post-Soviet space.” It is moving in Belarus first for obvious reasons but will move in similar fashion elsewhere in the future.

·         Sixth, Babich, given his experience with the oil and gas corporations in the Volga Federal District will work quickly to resolve controversies about both transit and the supply of energy resources to Belarus. Critically, Baranchik says,, he will work to ensure that Belarus becomes economically profitable economically and no longer require Moscow subsidies.

·         Seventh, Babich will coordinate closer military-political ties to cope with “threats to Belarus from the north, west, and south.”

·         And eighth, Babich will give a new impulse to the development of the Union State so that its integration becomes real and not just declarative, again “a model for relations” between Moscow and “all the republics of the former Soviet Union.”

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