By Paul Goble
Alyaksandr Lukashenka doesn’t want to have his country absorbed by Russia because that would cost him and family their power and perhaps even more, Roman Popkov says. But a far greater obstacle to an Anschluss like Crimea is “the lack of desire of the broad masses of the Belarusian people” to give up the independent state they have lived in.
“Not all of these supporters of a sovereign Belarus,” the Russian opposition commentator says, “are convinced members of the opposition. Not all of them consider the white-red-white flag as their own. But the overwhelming majority of Belarusians while viewing the Russians as ‘our own’ and as ‘brothers’ do not want to become Russians.”
And in this respect, Belarus is not Crimea, something that those who have taken to the streets in Minsk this weekend have been trying to ensure that Vladimir Putin and his regime finally understand (mbk-news.appspot.com/sences/neskolko-raz-po-trista/). It is a message the Kremlin leader must finally accept.
If he takes any actions to destroy the political independence of Belarus, Popkov says, that will “inevitably transform the relatively small march of opposition figures into a much broader popular movement of protest and attitudes toward Russians as ‘our own’ and ‘brothers’ will in an instant disappear.”
The proximate cause of the protests in Minsk this weekend is Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s meeting with Vladimir Putin in Sochi, a meeting that many in Belarus fear will lead to an agreement on the real creation of a union state, something that would solve Putin’s 2024 problem but only at the cost of destroying the hopes and expectations of many Belarusians.
Despite Lukashenka’s repressions and the absence of an independent media in Belarus, the Belarusian opposition has more in common with the Ukrainians of the Maidan than with the Russian opposition. It is proud of its country and does not want to see anyone else dictate terms to it, Popkov says.
At the same time, however, there is one major difference between the opposition in Belarus and that in Russia and Ukraine: it consists mostly of those who are middle aged or older rather than the young who quite obviously have a greater interest in making a European choice than anyone else.
Because that is so, Popkov concludes, for the moment, the chief guarantor of Belarusian sovereignty is not the passion of the opposition but the fears of Lukashenka – although that too could change instantly if Moscow were to try to conduct a Crimea-style Anschluss in its Western neighbor.