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Kremlin Could Use Belarus As Bridge To Europe, But Fears Taking The Risk – OpEd

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However angry Vladimir Putin is on occasion at Alyaksandr Lukashenka, the Kremlin leader is not about to stop supporting him lest he undermine his own standing at home or that of other authoritarian regime around the post-Soviet space, Vladislav Inozemtsev says.

And despite the fact that a more independent Belarus could offer Moscow unique opportunities as a bridge to Europe, the Russian economist says, Putin and his regime don’t appear to understand how they could do so. At least, they are not prepared to take the risks involved (thinktanks.by/publication/2021/07/26/vladislav-inozemtsev-stavka-kremlya-na-lukashenko-vyglyadit-okonchatelnoy.html).

Moscow will thus continue to place its bets on Lukashenka and to dose out support for him, primarily via credits unless Lukashenka proves more cooperative, Inozemtsev says. Moscow might not want to have a confrontation with the EU over Belarus, but the EU’s ability to affect Russian-Belarusian relations directly.

“The situation could change,” the economist says, “if another round of civic resistance begins in Minsk and Russia were to interfere militarily.” But that is unlikely. Indeed, for reasons both in Russia and in Belarus, the current situation is unlikely to change in a radical way anytime soon.

“The economic situation in Russia is stable, protests have been suppressed, and nothing threatens the regime,” Inozemtsev continues. “Lukashenka also does not intend to ‘hand over’ Belarus to the Kremlin because he considers the country his own property.” The problem is that Moscow and Minsk are driven by different things: Moscow by money; Lukashenka by power.

Lukashenka is thus more likely to “dies in his presidential palace like Salvador Allende than to flee with his billions into some country loyal to him” such as Russia. And because that is so, further integration with Russia isn’t going to happen anytime soon because such integration could cost the Belarusian dictator not money but power.

There is another factor working against rapid integration as well. Such integration could be “a problem” for Russia as well. It is one thing to approach integration; it is quite another to live with the reality of its implementation. The Kremlin doesn’t need either the social costs or the protests that Belarusians would bring with them if they were included in a Russian state.

That is all the more so because Moscow is currently getting almost everything it wants from Belarus without having to take those risks. And those who suggest that Russian oligarchs and their allies want to get their hands on Belarusian assets are vastly exaggerating the value of the latter.

And, of course, lying behind all of this is one other factor: Putin certainly recognizes that the absorption of Belarus would not bring him the political or financial benefits that seizing Crimea did in 2014. There would not be any “post-Belarus” consensus; and so the Kremlin is not likely to feel compelled to move more quickly toward unity. 

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Paul Goble

Paul Goble is a longtime specialist on ethnic and religious questions in Eurasia. Most recently, he was director of research and publications at the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy. Earlier, he served as vice dean for the social sciences and humanities at Audentes University in Tallinn and a senior research associate at the EuroCollege of the University of Tartu in Estonia. He has served in various capacities in the U.S. State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency and the International Broadcasting Bureau as well as at the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Mr. Goble maintains the Window on Eurasia blog and can be contacted directly at [email protected] .

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