Tuesday, August 18, 2020

‘Putin isn’t Lukashenka’ and Will Back Belarusian or Help Oust Him Depending Which Helps Kremlin More, Pastukhov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 16 – Vladimir Putin isn’t Lukashenka either in terms of the decay of his basis of support in the population, something widely recognized, or in terms of how he will respond to the events in Minsk, Vladimir Pastukhov says. If he were Lukashenka, he would crush the protesters by force; but that isn’t who Putin is, at least not yet.

            Putin instead is someone who views Belarus with cold eyes and has at least two plans he will choose among depending on developments, the London-based Russian analyst says. If Lukashenka holds on, Putin will support him; if it looks like he is on the way out, the Kremlin leader will accelerate the process (mbk-news.appspot.com/sences/minskij-kollajder/).

            Given that the latter course of events now appears the more likely although also the more complicated and expensive from Moscow’s point of view, Pastukhov argues, Putin may be moving toward the latest “upgrade” in his use of soft power, “from ‘managed democracy’ to ‘managed revolutions.’”

            “One must not exclude the possibility that what is occurring in Belarus is an enormous experiment about the testing of new Russian political technologies for the transit of power,” Pastukhov says, given that “in Minsk, a large revolutionary collider has begun to work,” threatening both the regime and more immediately Lukashenka’s place at its top.

            In this situation, one must be alive to the possibility that what Moscow will do may vary widely depending on circumstances.  “Many suppose,” Lukashenka says, that Moscow wants to have Lukashenka remain in office but in a much weakened position and thus be forced to agree to the Kremlin’s demand for closer union between Belarus and Russia.

            That may be what Putin wants and what he would like to see; but it is an approach that carries with it the risk that Belarus could develop in ways that would be even more unacceptable to the Kremlin in the direction of Ukraine without the characteristics Ukraine has that gave Putin the chance to intervene there.

            “Moscow now cannot ignore the fact” that Lukashenka hasn’t been able to push the genie of revolt back into the bottle but instead has taken actions that have radicalized Belarusians against him.  The spread of the protests beyond Minsk and especially the threats of strikes in ever more industries are especially worrisome to Putin.

            They show that the revolution has deepened to the point that Lukashenka may not ever be able to come back.  Most Russian commentators assume that Putin will weigh in on Lukashenka’s side lest things get worse because in Moscow, many fear that what is happening in Belarus now may be a dress rehearsal for what could happen in Russia in 2024.

            But those who make that argument misunderstand the way the Kremlin thinks, the analyst says.  “The collapse of Lukashenka’s regime is not something Moscow projects on itself but rather views as yet another problem: Plan A (support for Lukashenka) hasn’t worked. That means there is a need for Plan B (find something who will replace him).”

            Putin has no particular love for Lukashenka. He views the Belarusian leader approximately the way Stalin did Mao, “with deep suspicion and antipathy.” Deciding whether to support him or not is business not personal. The Kremlin leader will wait and watch and then act “without any rules and complete cynicism.”

            Plan A would be cheapest and easiest, but there are other plans; and “that means that Moscow at a critical moment could betray Lukashenka and place its bets on someone else.”  How Putin will do this is difficult to predict. He may back some Belarusian force structure leader or he may back someone in new elections whose outcome he will work hard to fix.

            The one thing Putin won’t do is respond in panic, Pastukhov says. He knows he has time and he will use it. 

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