Staunton, January 20 – The ongoing discussion about transition in the Russian Federation is not going to lead to any lessening of Moscow’s pressure on Minsk for “deeper integration,” Arsensy Sivitsky says, something Vladimir Putin has signaled by not saying anything about Belarus in his recent speeches.
Instead, the director of Minsk’s Center for Strategic and Foreign Policy Research says, precisely because Putin did not say anything about foreign policy issues, the Kremlin leader sent a clear message that he does not plan any changes in them. “I am certain that this does not mean that the integration issue is closed” (thinktanks.by/publication/2020/01/20/arseniy-sivitskiy-nikakoy-peredyshki-v-uglublenii-integratsii-kreml-minsku-ne-predlozhit.html).
“From the very beginning,” Savitsky continues, “the issue of deepened integration was scarcely affected by Putin’s 2024 problem when his current term will run out. [The Kremlin leader’s] integration ultimatum was motivated by strategic fears that he would lose influence in Belarus in the medium term.”
Given Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s approaches to the West and to China could mean that “in the next five to ten years, the influence of Russia in Belarus could be reduced or lost altogether. And in this connection, in Moscow’s opinion, it was necessary to take definite steps to hold Belarus still more strongly in the Russian geopolitical orbit.”
“Technical changes” in the Russian constitution “will not solve the main issue – that of the legitimacy of the Russian authorities,” Savitsky says. “Even more, the transit of power will occur in the context of an economic crisis which neither the past nor present Russian government can solve.”
“Therefore,” he says, “the only source for confirming the legitimacy of this power remains geopolitics;” and “the Kremlin very often turns to various geopolitical adventures in order to find there a source of legitimacy and distract the attention of the population from current problems.”
Expanded integration of Belarus with Russia is one of these geopolitical avenues, Savitsky says; “and this means that the conflicts between Minsk and Moscow will only intensify and that sooner or later the situation will develop to the point that Moscow will be forced to resolve these contradictions by greater interference in the internal affairs of Belarus.”
Indeed, he argues, “any step or any move in a western direction, for example, or a rejection from the integrative agenda will lead to even greater pressure from Moscow” to “more tightly embed Minsk into Russia’s geopolitical orbit.”
This isn’t because of any Slavic brotherhood or “Russian world,” Savitsky continues. “Belarus is an important territory from a military-strategic point of view. It is a buffer that Russia seeks to control. It is the shortest route to Kaliningrad if a crisis or conflict arises between Russia and NATO. And it is a transit country.”
For Russia, Savitsky argues, establishing control over Belarus is also important from an economic point of view … And it is important symbolically. The Crimean and Syrian successes no longer work. A demonstration of a new geopolitical success would undoubtedly allow for a boost in the rating of the master of the Kremlin.”