Staunton, August 28 – Just as the Prague Spring changed Eastern Europe forever despite Brezhnev’s efforts to restore the status quo ante with Soviet military force, so too the Belarusian people who have taken to the streets in their country have changed the situation there beyond the ability of Lukashenka or Putin to restore what was the case before August 9, Sergey Shelin says.
“A Belarusian political nation has been born and declared itself,” the Rosbalt commentator says. “This means there will appear a Belarusian nation state. Perhaps not now. Perhaps only after attempts to ‘correct’ the mistake of Lenin or someone else” are made and fail (rosbalt.ru/blogs/2020/08/28/1860915.html).
Putin operates under the illusion that he is “making history,” but doesn’t understand that history is moving along its own course. He and others like him can destroy the life of many, “but they cannot undo the inevitable. They can only delay it.” That has been the basic story line of the last 30 years.
Many Russians mistakenly believe that Boris Yeltsin supported this direction of history and that only Vladimir Putin has sought to reverse it. But in fact, Yeltsin worked to limit the formation of nation states. He had relatively little success in most places, and Putin has not had much more despite the imagery he has projected.
Putin’s much-ballyhooed support for ethnic Russians has not been all that consistent but it has been ineffective. He talks about it in Estonia and Latvia, but Russians there increasingly are identifying with their countries of residence and even taking citizenship and assimilating to the nations there.
At the same time, Putin has done little to oppose the pressure on ethnic Russians in Central Asia and the Caucasus. “Both the ‘soft’ Yeltsin and the ‘tough’ Putin simply have sacrificed htem to the interests of military, commercial and simply comradely relations with local rulers.”
“In Kazakhstan, the share of ethnic Russians in the population has fallen from 40 percent to less than 20 percent. All Russian speakers left Turkmenistan already under the previous deified dictator.” And even in “independent Abkhazia,” the fraction of ethnic Russians is smaller than it was in Soviet times.
According to Shelin, “the formation and strengthening of the new states has occurred over these 30 years almost without a glitch. Each of them sooner or later has adopted a regime it wants regardless of Moscow’s preferences. Russian attempts to block this have led to bloodletting and dramatic divorces, but they haven’t turned history back.”
A divorce with Georgia was completed with the invasion of 2008; that with Ukraine in turn was finalized with the annexation of Crimea and the destabilization of the Donbass in 2014. Moscow has tried to act with greater sophistication some places such as in Armenia, but it still doesn’t accept that it is on the losing side of history.
Now it is the turn of Belarus. At present, there “remain only two countries,” Belarus and Kazakhstan, where Moscow retains the illusion that it can keep them in Russia’s orbit forever. But with each passing year and each new revolution, the gap between this illusion and reality has become ever greater, however much Putin tries to suggest otherwise.