Staunton, August 21 – Russia will intervene in Belarus to try to ensure that Minsk remains its client, but in doing so, it will act very differently than it did in Ukraine not only because it needs Belarus whole (and Belarus is not easily divided as Ukraine was) but also because it now has three critical concerns of its own, Vladimir Pastukhov says.
“An exact repetition of ‘the Donbass scenario’ in Belarus is impossible” if only because of the absence of a Donbass, the London-based Russian analyst says. But more fundamentally, compared to Ukraine, the Kremlin needs Belarus whole rather than being divided and unstable (mbk-news.appspot.com/sences/tixij-donbass/).
And in Belarus, there is a leader in place who oversees siloviki who are ready to act but may not on their own be able to do everything Lukashenka or Putin wants. Putin’s efforts therefore will be simultaneously designed to stabilize the situation in Belarus and accelerate that country’s integration into the Russian Federation.
According to Pastukhov, the stakes for the Kremlin are “higher than they were in the case of Ukraine” because what Russian leaders need is not more instability and tension on their country’s border or new sanctions imposed by the West for a Ukraine-style operation. Consequently, Putin will proceed more cautiously if not less purposefully.
In making decisions about how to act, Pastukhov argues, Putin will be concerned and in a certain sense constrained by three things: First, he will want to prevent the West from imposing more sanctions for anything he does in Belarus. That will be easier because “’the deep West’ has already long ago handed over Belarus to Russia.”
Second, he will want to present himself as both a supporter of Lukashenka and a promoter of integration. That consideration militates against any direct application of military power and works in favor of various kinds of hybrid, police actions instead that will use people already in Belarus as much as possible.
And third, with regard to anything he does in Belarus, Putin will be looking over his shoulder at potential reactions within Russia itself. “The stronger the shot” at Minsk, Pastukhov argues, “the greater could be the recoil.” Khabarovsk shows what now might go wrong for the Kremlin; his actions against Aleksey Navalny show just how far he may be ready to go.