Staunton, December 26 – Many are suggesting that Vladimir Putin may absorb Belarus all at once, but in fact, Sergey Ilchenko says, he may adopt a “hybrid” approach, one that would extend over a lengthy period of time during which Belarus would have its own flag and seat at the UN and possibly a new but unrecognized pro-European enclave named Veishnoria.
Veishnoria, of course, refers to an imaginary enemy country that Moscow came up with during Zapad military exercises in the summer of 2017. It supposedly existed in the western part of Belarus and even had its own flag (rus.err.ee/618830/vydumannaja-dlja-uchenij-zapad-2017-strana-vejshnorija-zazhila-svoej-zhiznju-i-nabiraet-opolchenie).
In an unexpected and unintended development, many Belarusians quickly identified with the idea because Veishnoria stood in opposition to both Putin and Lukashenko, and a song in its defense by a Belarusian band went viral (belsat.eu/ru/opinions/vejshnoriya-eto-novorossiya-naoborot/ and charter97.org/ru/news/2017/9/15/262941/).
In Delovaya stolitsa today, the Ukrainian commentator argues that there are compelling reasons why Putin is interested in a Belarusian Anschluss now, why Alyaksandr Lukashenka does not have the means to resist and why Putin has an interest in a go-slow annexation rather than a snap one (dsnews.ua/world/lyudoeda-lyudoed-priglashaet-na-obed-pochemu-putin-reshil-doest-26122018220000).
Lukashenka needs Russian aid and Putin needs a victory, Ilchenko says. Given that Putin has all the cards in the game, Lukashenka can only play for time much as he has done for the last decade. But the question naturally arises: why is Putin moving just now, putting Lukashenka at the greatest disadvantage he has ever been?
There are many reasons, the Kyiv commentator says. First of all, “the swallowing o Belarus and the dividing up of Belarusian property will somewhat help the Russian budget which has been seriously suffering from sanctions. Second, this will distract the West from Ukrainian problems. Third, Russia’s image is now so low another sin won’t harm” Putin with the West.
And fourth and perhaps most important, Belarus is unlikely to offer the kind of resistance that would prevent Putin from achieving his goals, especially if he adopts the Veishnoria stratagem which would allow opponents of unity with Russia a play to withdraw to and complicate the position of the West.
Putin could even allow Veishnoria to leave Belarus and acquire “unrecognized independence,” thus creating any number of problems within the EU and setting the stage for some kind of deals: We’ll recognize Veishnoria, Putin could say; and you will recognize Abkhazia, South Ossetia and the DNR and LNR.
What one needs to remember, Ilchenko says, is that Moscow doesn’t need or care about the form of its absorption of Belarus: “Moscow needs Belarus as such” but one that won’t keep presenting it with Lukashenka’s efforts at cleverness or double-dealing. And so it can move slowly by effectively to control the situation even without changing many of the names.
Moscow has a sufficient network of agents in Belarus to overcome any resistance. Lukashenka can’t count on his own security agencies and he can’t count on the population whom he has offended repeatedly over two decades. And if Lukashenka tries to resist, he can be pushed aside or a Maidan-like protest movement can be cooked up to justify Russian action.
According to Ilchenko, Putin benefits in this situation from a slower hybrid annexation. Doing it all at once would not allow him the freedom of maneuver he wants. He would be “much more interested” in creating a situation on the border of the EU with an unrecognized enclave and then see how Brussels would react.
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