Staunton, December 25 – Alyaksandr Lukashenka had two reasons for agreeing to cooperation between his interior ministry and the Russian Guard – he wanted to frighten the protesters and he hoped to deflect popular anger from the MVD – while Putin had only one – to be in a position to seize control of Belarus, Anton Kostsov says.
The Belarusian analyst who now lives in Poland says that Lukashenka’s reasons were more immediately obvious, but Putin’s carried with it the most serious consequences. Faced with continuing protests against him, Lukashenka has been looking for any way to frighten Belarusians and get them to stop (region.expert/rg-belarus/).
And this task has become especially urgent given that the leaders of the protests have focused their criticism on his security forces, something that has led to the demoralization of part of them – 18 percent of all officers have left the service recently – and to fears among them of what may happen to them if and when Lukashenka is overthrown.
But buried in the agreement on cooperation is a provision which reflects Putin’s interest. It calls for the two groups to cooperate to “maintain public order” and thus gives the Kremlin leader at least potentially the power to intervene in Belarusian affairs with his own armed groups, something that could lead to the integration of the two countries.
Putin wants that option if for no other reason then that the coming to power of the Belarusian opposition would mean that Minsk would turn away from the Kremlin and toward the European Union and NATO. He has already boosted Russian forces in Kaliningrad, a place within Russia whose residents feel close to Europe.
Western governments need to make crystal clear that any intervention in Belarusian affairs by Putin under cover of the Minsk MVD and Russian Guard cooperation agreement will be met with decisive opposition by the West, Kostsov says. In that event, Belarus can become “a reliable bastion of Europe and an advanced post of Western civilization to the east.”