Currently, one of the most important long-term issues is the events taking place in Belarus. The way in which these protests resolve will concern not only Belarus, but undoubtedly Russia as well. This means that the events in Belarus will have an impact on global geopolitics – it’s a loud statement, but it’s a fact.
Belarus cannot be considered an important player in the geopolitical arena, but its ties to Russia are so close you can compare them to a car being towed by another car. If one of them begins heading for a ditch, the other has only a few options – to break away and continue driving alone, or to follow the first one in the ditch.
If, at one point, it seemed that Putin would do anything to save Lukashenko’s regime, now we can see that Putin has become somewhat idle. It looks like Putin has decided to stand aside and to not engage directly, at least for now.
Looking at the events in Belarus, I have to agree with the opinion of political expert Valery Karbalevich: “The two conflicting sides are equal. Their power is equal. Neither of the sides can win, and Aleksandr Lukashenko categorically refuses to begin talks with the protesters. This means that the conflict in Belarus can only be resolved if one side achieves an absolute victory.”1
There are several facts indicating that Lukashenko has chosen the uncompromising path of force:
First, the video in which Lukashenko was shown holding an assault rifle. The fact that the president himself is running around armed while his nation is on the other side of the barricades is a strong signal. It’s not enough that Lukashenko is holding a weapon, it’s in the arms of his underage son as well. I will note that the Kremlin has refused to comment on Lukashenko’s antics.2 However, the Kremlin doesn’t hide that fact that it’s interested in supporting such political factions that will later be willing to cooperate.3
This means that Putin doesn’t really care whether it’s Lukashenko or someone else, as long as the person is loyal to the Kremlin. We should also mention that when commenting on the protests of 23 August, the Kremlin stated that it hadn’t seen any provocations by the protesters, and that law enforcement authorities had done their job correctly.4 This is an uncharacteristic statement in support of the protesters.
But the Kremlin believes that those behind organizing the protests are residing outside Belarus.5 Such a statement increases the viability of the scenario in which the Kremlin will assist Belarus in case of external threats. It isn’t, however, revealed whether Russia intends to engage in case of a real threat, which in reality is impossible, or a made up one.
There are plenty of indicators of Lukashenko preparing the soil for some sort of a provocation or enactment. For instance, I already wrote about the redeployment of an air assault brigade.6 It is reported that several army units have been put on highest combat readiness, and a call up of reservists is not ruled out.7
In standard situations, information about such exercises is announced in advance along with the aim of the exercise. In this case, the aim of the “exercise” is based on Lukashenko’s statements about an alleged external threat. Historically, such exercises have been the harbingers of military assaults. We know that Lukashenko will not attack any of the neighboring states, so what does Lukashenko intend to use the army for?
Some previous occurrences could shed a light on Lukashenko’s intentions. The Belarusian minister of defense announced that starting with 23 August army units will guard memorials and monuments, adding: “We categorically warn you – if peace and order is disturbed, you won’t have to deal with the police, you’ll have to deal with the army.”8 Let’s not be naïve, no minister would say anything like this without the approval of Lukashenko, who has essentially deployed the army against his own people.
Lukashenko is also employing the tactics of divide and conquer, which is evidenced by his order to close all factories where workers have gone on strike,9 and the decision to dismiss all teachers who have expressed support for the protesters.10
The big question is – what will Lukashenko do now? Sadly, all indicators suggest that his decisions will resemble that of a cornered hungry wolf. Lukashenko has already shown that he isn’t afraid to engage power structures, and now the army as well, to suppress the protests repress the protesters.
If we analyze the recent events, we have to agree with Karbalevich – either Lukashenko will be able to subdue the protesters, or the protesters will overthrow Lukashenko. Unfortunately, there is little chance that this will happen peacefully. However, the situation could drastically change if one of the power structures decided to take the side of the protesters.