Monday, August 29, 2016

The Power Vertical

Why Belarus Is About To Get Interesting

Enough of your shenanigans!
Enough of your shenanigans!
By Brian Whitmore

When the Ukrainian and Belarusian national football teams faced off in Lviv last weekend, their fans marched out together under banners reading "For Your Freedom And Ours" and "A Brotherhood Of Conscience."

They belted out chants and songs deriding Russian President Vladimir Putin -- with predictably unprintable lyrics -- and gave blood together for wounded Ukrainian soldiers. 

Two weeks earlier, Belarus's authoritarian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka pardoned and released six political prisoners. The move, veteran Kremlin-watcher Paul Goble wrote on his blog, was "clearly intended to send a message to both the West and Moscow." 

One of the unexpected consequences of Russia's annexation of Crimea and proxy war in eastern Ukraine has been a chill in relations between Minsk and Moscow and a thaw in those between Belarus and the West.

Lukashenka, of course, has been careful not to completely burn his bridges with Moscow, given his dependence on Russian subsidies. Belarus remains a member of the Eurasian Union and regularly conducts joint military drills with Russia.

But as political analyst Petr Bologov writes on, since the Ukraine crisis broke out, Belarus has been the only thing remotely resembling a Moscow ally "west of Smolensk" -- and this has given Minsk considerable breathing space. 

But that may be about to change.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev is due in Minsk on September 9, ostensibly for a meeting of the Eurasian Union's intergovernmental council.

But according to Russian press reports, the real goal of Medvedev's trip is to deliver a message from the Kremlin: It's time to stop bobbing and weaving between Moscow and the West and get on board.

Specifically, Russia wants Belarus to allow it to build a new air base on Belarusian territory -- something Lukashenka had been resisting. 

The base would be located in Babruysk, in eastern Belarus, and would station SU-27 fighter jets manned by Russian pilots, reported. 

It would significantly project Russian military power westward, allowing Moscow to threaten and intimidate not only Ukraine but also Poland, Latvia, and Lithuania.

And if Lukashenka continues to resist? Well, then the upcoming Belarusian presidential election gives Moscow a major opportunity to tighten the screws on him.

According to Arseniy Sivitsky and Yury Tsarik of the Belarusian Center for Strategic and Foreign Policy Research, Moscow is laying the groundwork to destabilize Belarus in the aftermath of the October 11 election -- creating the "illusion of a Maidan," so Russian forces could then enter the country to restore order. 

And the information campaign appears to have already begun.

Aleksey Pushkov, chairman of the State Duma’s Foreign Relations Committee, said recently that the West was planning a colored revolution in Belarus to oust Lukashenka.

"The pro-Kremlin media are actively preparing public opinion in Russia and neighboring countries for war, destabilization, coups, and colored revolutions," the U.S.-based Russian journalist Kseniya Kirillova wrote recently. "And as a result, there will be a need to introduce forces into these countries under the pretext of restoring the constitutional order."

It all looks like a threat, a hint to the Belarusian strongman about what might happen if he doesn't play ball.

Tsarik notes that over the past two years we have seen the beginning of "the process of normalizing relations between Belarus and the West," which "is the natural response of Belarus to the economic collapse in Russia and the need to find new markets and new partners to ensure further development of its own economy."

Lukashenka has refused to recognize Crimea as part of Russia and even ridiculed Moscow's logic justifying the annexation, saying that Mongolia could just as easily lay claim to large swaths of Russian territory.

He has carved out a neutral stance on the conflict in the Donbas, has said he would never allow Belarusian territory to be used to attack another state, and has made it clear that Belarus isn't interested in being part of Putin's so-called "Russian World."

But the Kremlin appears to have had enough.

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: DaniH from: Romania
September 09, 2015 08:31
There is a solution: Lukashenko to relinquish power to the oposition in the upcoming elections. No color revolutions would make sens after that, at least in the near term and Russia will be forced to act as in Ukraine in order to keep Belarus under it's boot. But is Belarus ready for a change of leadership?

by: Markhayo
September 09, 2015 09:39
If the West must get closer to Belarus to counter Putin, so be it. But it is a deeply unsavoury regime. I remember the Minsk metro explosion and a BBC Newsnight suggestion that the alleged bombers were tortured by the KGB, framed and executed.
Are we reverting to the policy of 'he's a bastard, but he's our bastard'?

by: Goran from: Minsk
September 09, 2015 10:54
Or your journalist is not informed, or intentionally is writing a western propaganda. people in Belarus are RUSSIAN oriented, and no one can that change for a long time. STOP MAKING STUPID ANTI RUSSIAN PROPAGANDA. Instead start writing how and why western countries and USA are bombing any country that not think like them.
Does now people in Iraq, Syria, Lybia live better than before bombing?
NO, much worst.
In Response

by: bullone from: South Carolina
September 09, 2015 12:48
What rock did you crawl out from under? Putin obviously doesn't pay you, because your English is so poor.
In Response

by: marc from: South Carolina
September 09, 2015 22:15
what is your pronlem bullone, all we not acept then isn't true...YES OUR ENGLISH is not good but we know 2 languages and you ? i can be sure you don't know even english,,...and please stop now the bad and stupid publicity agains the beautiful and paceful Russia .. STOP
In Response

by: Goran from: Minsk
September 10, 2015 12:00
Do You know where is Belarus located, "EDUCATED ONE". Your USA democracy?
Thanks no for me, and no for the rest of the world.
Your BOMB democracy?
No thanks.
What of my previous writing you do not undestand?
Did You at least finish school?
In Response

by: asad from: malaysia
September 12, 2015 00:51
bullone don't be proud of your English.Respect others if you want respect for yourself .now Russia is Growing and this is painful for you people
In Response

by: John from: Europe
September 09, 2015 13:13
This article is about Belarus, stop trying to change to subject.

Majority of people in Belarus are ... belarus-orientated. Neither Russian nor West-orientated.

But then again, from an ousider perspective - which would you choose to be buds with? Russa or Europe.. Hmm. Hard decision, right?
In Response

by: Goran from: Minsk
September 10, 2015 12:02
Not hard at all.

WEST is going down. People are good there, but birocrats, make a strange decisions, and are bombing anyone who doesnt think like them.


In Response

by: Scott from: USA
September 09, 2015 13:29
What in the world are you talking about?It's not propaganda. It's life living on the edge between 2 different competing systems. Belarus may be pro russian. However that does not mean that their interests are the same as Russia"s. To suggest otherwise would be foolish. Putin was so sure he could take all of Ukraine from Odessa to Donetsk with the help of pro russian population. That didn't work out too well. Too many dead russian soldiers to hide. Stop blaming the West and be a little introspective to your true Belarussian soul. The truth will release you from Putler addiction.
In Response

by: Goran from: Minsk
September 10, 2015 12:05
Putin did not start coloured revolutions. Doesnt He?
West starts them. Why it is notmal, WEST took Kosovo from Serbia, Not normal, Russia took Crimea from Ukraine. And most part of Ucraine are also pro Russians, rest are Nazists, and minority are Pro Western oriented.. Start reading other new spapers, not just Western propaganda
In Response

by: Sasho from: Bulgaria
September 09, 2015 19:32
You know, a large part of the Ukrainians had sentiments for Russia, too. That didnt change the fact that when they had to choose a better future for their country in 2014, they choose an anti-russian stand. Its the same situation in Belarus and Belarussians would realize it sooner or later. No country has a political or economic future while being attached to the despotic Putin regime.
In Response

by: Goran from: Minsk
September 10, 2015 12:07
Bulgaria has much worst regime and policy than Russia.
Why You dont recognize Macedonians and Macedonian state?
Or You support Nazy Ucrainians like You support Nazists in 2 world war?
In Response

by: rolan from: canada
September 11, 2015 01:44
you will surely prosper in EU, with agriculture growing rape-seed as diesel fuel and industry abolished as less efficient than the EU/US industry. Don't forget to arm yourself against Russia, you shall win as soon as you start a war. And don't forget to pay your debts for the arms. They are damn expensive toys for the bum-elites!
In Response

by: Dorjan from: Minsk
September 11, 2015 09:45
That's not entirely true. Many Belarusians are Pro-Russia but not all. However I entirely agree that many people would love to join their old empire of Lithuania and other such nations in the EU.

It's not about being pro-EU or pro-Russia for Belarus. It's about being anti-war.
In Response

by: Tariq Abbas from: pakistan
September 12, 2015 00:48
yes goran i agree. this is all just to weak Russia and they know Russia getting power .even pakistan Russia and China is making grand asia Group

by: obrien from: uk
September 09, 2015 14:08
Goran from: Minsk, You are wrong. The people of Libya and Iraq allowed themselves to be taken over by factions after their dictators were oused . They could be now having a really good life.
In Syria you are wrong again, it is their own government bombing their own people allowing factions like Isis to gain ground
In Response

by: Goran from: Minsk
September 10, 2015 12:13
brien from: uk You are that one that is wrong. WESTERN BOMB DEMOCRATION doesnt have results.
2010 year, refugees in europe from Syria and Lybia = 0
2015 year refugees in europe from Syria and Lybia = 200.000 until september, and more than 50.000 wait in Greece, Macedonia and Serbia to enter EU.
Mostly of world population live outside EU, and many of them think that EU is not demopcratic, but no one even in dreams think to BOMB You.
So when your prepotency will slow down, You will understand how bad you did to the wrld, trying to bring EU democracy to the whole world. It is war for OIL not democracy, only stupid people will not see that.
WHY EU took Kosovo from Serbia?
Because coal minest can be exploited for more than 200 years on Kosovo. There are bilions of tons of coal.
Its enought of EU democracy

by: EuroMaidan from: Finland
September 09, 2015 19:39
West has been clearly playing with two set of cards. While Lukashenka was put on a black list due to some alleged crimes against so called human rights, at the same time Obama is rebuilding diplomatic ties with Castro's Cuba and Merkel & Hollande listens very carefully what Kreml tells them. No intention what so ever to put Putin and Lavrov on any sort of a black list and deny their participation to any summits. That has to be changed. I suggest the west lift all the bans against Lukashenka and Belarus to ensure that he stays at least neutral between west and Russia.

by: pienknie
September 09, 2015 20:08
Not too late for Lukashenka to put a Polish crew in the air traffic control tower ahead of Dima's visit. Strange things have been known to happen to Russian-made aircraft carrying Eastern European government officials in that part of the world.
In Response

by: Rick Caty from: Fallbrook, California
September 11, 2015 06:12
Yeah, like when the Russians misguided the Polish aircraft a few years ago, accidently on purpose.

by: Bohdan from: Canada
September 11, 2015 18:46
So what was the result of the visit by Medvedev?
In Response

by: Fred from: Virginia
September 23, 2015 11:14
Bohdan, now a few days later we know: Putin plans to take an air force base in Belarus and make it its own. Probably the beginning of Belarus losing its independence. Looks like Lukashenka is not willing to say no.

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The Power Vertical is a blog written especially for Russia wonks and obsessive Kremlin watchers by Brian Whitmore. It offers Brian's personal take on emerging and developing trends in Russian politics, shining a spotlight on the high-stakes power struggles, machinations, and clashing interests that shape Kremlin policy today. Check out The Power Vertical Facebook page or