Sunday, August 30, 2020

West has Failed ‘the Belarus Test,’ Shevtsova Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 27 – Belarus has become a test for the West and its commitment to democracy; and to date, the West has failed that test, Liliya Shevtsova says. Instead of supporting its democratic principles, the West has urged the Belarusian people not to do anything that will anger Russia or risk transforming their country into another Ukraine. 

Neither Russia nor the West, of course, was ready for what has happened; but Vladimir Putin is quite prepared to back a dictator who falsifies elections and uses force against his own people. After all, that is what Putin has done at home and it is the kind of regime he backs abroad, the Russian commentator says (

The West, however, had a chance to live up to its calls for democracy; but instead, it has once against shown itself far less concerned about that than about stability above all about having reasonable relations with Moscow however authoritarian, imperialist and bandit-like Putin’s regime is, Shevtsova continues. 

The Russian commentator points out that what is going on not only reflects “the hypocrisy of Western elites” but also is based on the notion that all conflicts can be resolved via compromise. That simply doesn’t work with a dictator who isn’t prepared to back down, especially one with a nuclear power in his corner.

“The Kremlin cannot but feel satisfaction,” Shevtsova continues, because by their actions, “the liberal democracies have recognized a Russian sphere of influence and Belarus being part of it.” The best the West could aspire to was an Armenian type transition in which Belarus would become democratic but remain in Russia’s sphere of influence.

Tragically, she stresses, “Russia has chosen a different scenario: keeping Belarus in Russia’s sphere of attract with Lukashenka remaining in power.” It is bad enough that the Kremlin has achieved that. What is worse is that a majority of Russians back Putin in his support for the Belarusian strongman.

With time, Shevtsova says, “Belarus will become a test for Moscow as well.” Will it use Russian forces against thousands of Belarusians in the streets?  Will it get what it wants from Lukashenka or will Lukashenka continue his devious approach of constantly shifting gears in order to survive personally?  Then what?

And “where is the guarantee that Lukashenka won’t stage a provocation on the borders with NATO countries to which Moscow would have to respond?” Putin may sooner than he expects find himself “the hostage of his promises to support” the incumbent Belarusian dictatorship.

“It would be strange if the Kremlin’s support of Lukashenka did not provoke anti-Russian feelings among the Belarusians,” she continues. “In this case, the conflict between the powers and society in Belarus will be transformed into a geopolitical crisis when Belarusians will cast doubt on ‘fraternal relations’ with Russia.”

More immediately, by backing Lukashenka, the Kremlin has made itself responsible for Lukashenka’s Stalinist approach. The West’s failure to stand up to Putin in this case may have allowed the Kremlin leader to return to the big leagues of international politics, but he returns as damaged goods.

And one should not write off the West entirely. If its leaders aren’t prepared to stand up to Russian aggression, there are many in the West who are, the Nordic-Baltic countries “plus Poland” in the first instance. These states and peoples have more influence than many are inclined to recognize.

With time, they may be able to move the West; and the West, although slow to move, becomes unstoppable once it takes action, Shevtsova says.

And she ends with the most important question of all: “How can the Kremlin resolve the conflict between the people and a dictator in Belarus if it can’t resolve its own conflict with the people in Khabarovsk?” There is the dangerous possibility that “Belarus is a dress rehearsal for the resolution of Russian problems.” 

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