Monday, January 28, 2019

Moscow Won’t Annex Belarus but Probability of Major War Growing, Solovey Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 26 – All the speculation to the contrary, Moscow will not annex Belarus, Valery Solovey says. The costs are simply too much greater than the benefits. But at the same time he warns that the probability of a major war is growing because those in the Kremlin assume it is coming and are acting in ways that will make one likely even if they lose it.

            In an interview with Olga Kurnosova of the After Empire portal, the MGIMO professor argues that in his view, Moscow will not absorb Belarus or even significantly tighten its integration into Russia because “the possible risks and negative consequences” vastly exceed “the economic gains” from such a move (

            Belarus represents an attractive target for business interests in Russia to divide up, Solovey says, especially given that there are few new targets within Russia. But the costs of absorbing it and the loss of Russia’s only real ally make such a step “strategically” unprofitable for Moscow.

            Even more, he continues, any Russian move against Belarus would become “the unique case when despite how tired Belarusians are of Lukashenka, they would be together with him” against Moscow “because they would not like to see the Russian economic model carried out” in their country. 

            According to Solovey, “Belarusian youth in general is oriented toward the West in cultural and what is most important economic sense.” They can visit both Russia and the West and make comparisons, none of which “are in favor of the Russian Federation.”  The Kremlin will try to frighten Lukashenka and apply pressure, but in the end, it “will have to pull back.”

            That doesn’t mean that Putin has given up on absorbing Belarus: that country isn’t going anywhere. The West won’t take Lukashenka in and “unlike Ukraine, Belarus will not be able to leave, at least now.” More to the point, Russians now wouldn’t be enthusiastic about losing an ally and gaining new burdens, at least for the moment.

            If the risks of a conflict over Belarus are smaller than many think, “the probability of a major war is growing,” not local conflict but “a big war.” That is the assumption people in the Kremlin are making and preparing for; and even if war is ultimately avoided, tensions between Russia and the West will remain in place or even escalate.

            Putin will want to demonstrate that he is a major figure both to his audience at home and to Western leaders; and he assumes he can do so only by flexing his military muscle given Russia’s lack of other forms of influence and power. And Putin will do so, Solovey says, because he really gets “satisfaction” from doing so.

            The Kremlin leader “isn’t very interested in getting involved with economic development or internal affairs; he considers that the situation on the whole is under control. The Kremlin is absolutely certain” that that is the case; and so it and Putin are looking for new worlds to conquer – or to intimidate by using force in Europe which has been at peace for so long.

            Putin believes, and Solovey thinks he is right, that in the current circumstances, “the threat of using force may turn out to be no less strong an argument that actually using force.” That is fortunate because if it came to a clash of forces between Russia and NATO, Russia would lose quickly given its lack of resources for a major conflict.

            Western experts have told him, the MGIMO professor says, that such a war if it remained non-nuclear would last no more than two or three weeks and that Russia would lose.  Consequently, Putin will try to raise the stakes without crossing the line of actually using force because that is the only strategy has that may allow him to win. 

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