Staunton, September 21 – As protests continue in both Khabarovsk and Belarus and become increasingly radical, Moscow faces a difficult choice: should it side with those in power in the name of preserving stability now or should it ally itself with the population and lay the basis for longer-term relations.
Radicalization among the protesters in both places is accelerating with each passing day (sibreal.org/a/30850398.html, realtribune.ru/news/people/5128, apn.ru/index.php?newsid=38620 and thinktanks.by/publication/2020/09/21/oxana-shelest-bazovoe-trebovanie-dlya-vseh-korennoe-izmenenie-situatsii.html).
For Moscow, shifting from the powers to the people in Khabarovsk is unthinkable, but in Belarus, it is a real issue because the immediate interests of the Kremlin are at variance with the long-term interests of Russia (mk.ru/politics/2020/09/21/dilemma-dlya-rossii-druzhit-s-lukashenko-ili-s-narodom-belarusi.html).
While the balance between Belarusians who look to Moscow and Belarusians who look to Europe has changed in favor of the latter and will only continue to do so because young Belarusians are more Europe-oriented than their parents, the anti-Lukashenka protests are not anti-Russian.
The leaders speak Russian and stress that they aren’t interested in breaking with Moscow as some in the Russian capital think. They want to maintain good ties with their eastern neighbor, to retain the Russian language as an official one, and see their culture as part of a broader Russian one.
“But it is already obvious,” Tsipko says, “that the more actively we support the current political regime in Belarus” – that is Lukashenka – “the more rapidly anti-Russian attitudes among the Belarusians will grow.” More than that, Moscow’s backing of Lukashenka is alienating other Slavic peoples from Russia as well.
“From the point of view of the interests of present-day Russia, it must support Lukashenka; but from the point of view of the longer-term interests of the Russian nation, this support undermines the preconditions in general for the preservation of the Russian state.”
That is because, the senior Moscow commentator continues, “a state surrounded by enemies on all sides and without allies in general doesn’t have a future.” Consequently, the Kremlin “must seek a compromise between the short-term and long-term interests of the Russian nation.”
That isn’t going to be easy, but unless Moscow finds a way to ensure that its continuing support for Lukashenka does not lead to the final loss of Belarus as a friend of Russia and Russians, the future for Moscow will be bleak. Indeed, Tsipko suggests, it may even be catastrophic, however much some in the Russian capital think otherwise.