Staunton, August 22 – Many analysts have pointed to the absence of regional differences in Belarus that Moscow could play on as it has in Ukraine, but now a Russian outlet is suggesting that Minsk does face a potential separatist challenge, not along the border with Russia but rather along the one with Poland and Lithuania.
Topcor.ru quotes a Belarusian nationalist, Sergey Korotkikh, as saying that Grodno Oblast is no longer effectively controlled by the Belarusian central government because a large segment of its residents have a special document issued by Warsaw that opens the way for them to become Polish citizens (topcor.ru/16176-u-belarusi-mozhet-pojavitsja-svoj-separatistskij-region.html).
Minsk has downplayed this threat, Korotkikh says; but it may not be able to do so for much longer because oblast officials are increasingly acting on their own and at odds with Lukashenka. For example, they have been allowing people there to protest against the Belarusian leader and not seeking to limit them in any way.
According to the nationalist, “the city of Grodno has now returned to the Magdeburg law”that was extended to the city partially in 1391 and fully in 1496. The city leaders and the police are now on the side of the demonstrators, and neither group is going to go along with Lukashenka remaining in power.
This may be nothing more than the disgruntled comment of a Belarusian nationalist who has no problem talking to a Russian outlet. But it may be something else: it may be an attempt by Moscow to play up the problem of separatism either as a means of putting new pressure on Lukashenka to come to heel or as the start of a propaganda effort to back Russian intervention.
Either is possible, but the second is especially worrisome, particularly since most analysis of the situation has discounted a regionalist approach. But in this case, Moscow would be acting against a regionalist threat rather than fomenting one in reality, and it would cast itself as doing so against Poland, a perennial opponent of the Russian state.
As a result, what may seem merely an anomaly could be a sign that some in the Russian capital are thinking along these lines and may even be ready to play a separatist card in Belarus, albeit a very different one that Moscow has been playing in Ukraine.