Saturday, April 27, 2019

Putin Could Annex Belarus But Only by Force and at Great Cost, Shelin Says

Paul Goble
            Staunton, April 25 – For at least the last eight months, Russian commentators have been talking about how Russia will absorb Belarus, as oblasts added to its own, as an analogue to Tatarstan or as a union state, Sergey Shelin says; but all such talk is based on the assumption that Belarusians in general and Alyaksandr Lukashenka in particular want to be part of Russia.

            That simply isn’t true, the Rosbalt observer says; and thus, if Vladimir Putin wants to absorb Belarus in any of these ways, he will have to use force and take large losses because as Lukashenka has pointed out Belarusians are used to being an independent country and Russia cannot offer them anything worth sacrificing that (

            Minsk has created a state, and “what is especially important, it controls the special services and the army,” Shelin continues.  And while it is “possible that the Belarusian nomenklatura is tired of living under the heavy hand of the autocrat,” can one really suggest that Russia would offer them something better? No, many would lose and they know it.

            The Belarusian population is similarly situated. It may not be thrilled with Lukashenka but it isn’t divided regionally as Ukraine is aknd Belarusians “who consider themselves ethnic or civic Russians are few. They define themselves as a separate nation even if they speak Russian more often than Belarusian.”

            As a result, an honest assessment forces one to conclude that there aren’t any domestic causes either in the regime or in the population for the Belarusian people to willingly give up their independence. “The only peaceful argument” present is “the colossal material dependence” of Belarus on Russia, a dependence equal to 10 billion US dollars a year.

            Many in Russia think that Belarusians will give up their sovereignty in order to keep that money flowing, but Shelin says that “states which have shown their ability to independent existence (and Belarus can be described as one of them) will do not trade sovereignty for money.”

            They will play games, make concessions and do all kinds of things that look like they are doing so but they will not engage in “self-liquidation.” Shelin recalls that when Moscow turned off gas to Estonia, the response of Estonians was “’what can we do but travel less and think more.’” The reaction of Belarusians will be the same.

            Why then do many in Moscow think otherwise?  That is because for them the absorption of Belarus “is extremely desirable not out of material considerations but rather for spiritual ones.” The state would expand, any foreign threat would be that much further away, and unification could solve Putin’s 2024 problem.

            If fusion happened, it could certainly be used for the last, but the costs involved of doing so are far greater than the costs of solving that problem in other ways.  Annexing Belarus would be “expensive and complicated in every sense – politically, organizationally and materially,” Shelin says. Therefore, he concludes, it is unlikely to take place.

            Lukashenka has made it crystal clear that Moscow would be making a big mistake to try. Belarusians aren’t willing to lose their country because “they already have been born in a free and independent Belarus. And he who tries to destroy Belarus will be cursed by our Belarusian people,” and he who does so by force will be resisted (

                The Belarusian ruler has “created this regime and naturally wants to preserve it for himself and his heirs,” Shelin says, adding that in his mind, “the picture is simple: A small autocratic regime is maneuvering and shaking its first from a desire to preserve itself.” And a big autocratic regime can see that it has no way of changing things except by force.

            That would involve paying a price far greater than any real gains, the Rosbalt analyst says; and he adds that he “wants to believe that the decision [to try to take Belarus] has not been taken and won’t be.”

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