Friday, August 28, 2020

Is Lukashenka About to Dress Up His Siloviki as Lithuanian NATO Soldiers to Force Moscow’s Hand? Pastukhov Asks

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 24 – What is happening in Belarus calls attention not to the appearance of a new Medievalism, about which so many have spoken, but rather to something more primitive, a situation in which Alyaksandr Lukashenka views power as his personal possession rather than something organic to the existence of the state, Vladimir Pastukhov says.

            The London-based Russian analyst says that Lukashenka now feels himself to be the master of Belarus, viewing both the country and its government “not as a power but as his own property.” Everything else follows from this, including what he may or may not do because he feels free to dispose of both as their owner (

            For Lukashenka now, the 10 million people of Belarus are “his serfs and his slaves” and his rule is something his by right of birth or “apparently, if he believes in God, God-given.” Such an attitude sets him apart from most rulers, although it has its origins in the way in which privatization happened after 1991 and the desire to privatize everything, including the state.

            But his view and that of the Belarusian people are increasingly at odds, creating a kind of “cognitive dissonance” and meaning that Lukashenka faces ever greater challenges in trying to support his own vision of himself and his ownership of Belarus and the Belarusian state. The Belarusian people simply don’t accept that view.

            The Belarusian people are “post-Soviet, conservative, kind and not accustomed to sharp movements. But it has turned out that they don’t have the psychology of slaves.” And for Lukashenka, this is “a big problem,” Pastukhov says.  They will not allow him to dispose of the state or the country as he wishes, at least not without objecting.

            As a result, the Russian scholar says, “Belarus has entered into a regime of revolution,” something many do not fully understand because “a revolution is a special state of affect both for society as a whole and for each individual. This is a certain psychological state in which all our usual and normal algorithms of behavior are put aside.”

            People, both rulers and ruled, lose their customary sense of what works and what doesn’t and take steps that unintentionally make the situation worse for themselves, Pastukhov continues. Thus, many say, looking at Lukashenka, that he is “mad.” But he may be playing  the mad man because that appears to be the only possible strategy he can adopt.

            The real question in the coming weeks and months is where the Belarusian army stands. “An army is the force structure most tightly rooted in the population because the gendarmerie and the army differ in that the gendarmerie is elite and the army is part of the population.” Where is will go will likely determine a great deal.

            The current events in Belarus have a great deal to teach us because they are destroying “a large number of false paradigms which were formed in the era of ‘velvet revolutions’ in Eastern Europe at the end of the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s.” They suggest that revolutions are returning to the violent acts they were earlier.

            They also suggest something else: While revolutions tend to fail if they do not move quickly, they often fail only to reemerge a few years later and be successful. That was the case in Russia at the start of the 20th century; it may very well be the case in Belarus at the start of the 21st.

            But Lukashenka’s focus on himself has reduced him from a player to a pawn. He may give up sovereignty in order to save himself, allowing Moscow to play a role that Belarusians will not permanently accept even if they feel themselves compelled to do so for a time.  And so Lukashenka’s moves in that direction may save him but they won’t end the revolution.

            But both because of the irrationality revolutions produce and Lukashenka’s own self-obsession, there are some very dangerous possibilities that may arise in the next few weeks. Pastukhov says that he worries now about a reprise of something like what happened in 1939, if Lukashenka dresses Belarusian siloviki as Lithuanian and NATO soldiers.

            That is a possibility because Lukashenka “at any price is trying to create a formal basis for the introduction of the forces of the [Moscow-dominated] Organization for the Collective Security Treaty into Belarus.” But such actions could have far larger echoes as well, especially  as the Kremlin has not yet learned to play in  the complex game Lukashenka has set up.

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