By Paul Goble
It has long been common ground that Belarusians are not anti-Russian. Moscow and Western governments want that to be the case, and leaders of the Belarusians now in the streets frequently reiterate that they and their followers are not anti-Russian.
But it is a mistake, Russian commentator Andrey Shvets says, to assume that this will always be true regardless of what Minsk or Moscow does. And in a comment for Rosbalt, he argues that Putin’s backing of Alyaksandr Lukashenka is having the effect of “alienating Belarusian society from Russia” (rosbalt.ru/posts/2020/08/27/1860730.html).
“By supporting leaders whom their own people hate in exchange for short-term loyalty,” he argues, “Russia is converting itself into the last refuge of scoundrels and setting against itself a significant portion of the citizens of these countries.” The Kremlin has done this in many cases, but in Belarus in recent days, it has outdone itself.
For the last decade, Lukashenka has encouraged Belarusians to believe that he is “defending the country against being swallowed up by Russia.” Since the election and the start of protests, the Belarusian strongman hasn’t been talking like that because he needs the Kremlin support. But he won’t get it at least for the long term.
“If Lukashenka does remain in power, then he will continue to exploit the theme of Russian aggression because this fear has worked so well for him. Moscow will thus be helping him by retaining in power a leader who is in essence anti-Russian,” Shvets continues.
As far as Lukashenka’s opponents are concerned, they are “disappointed in the position of a significant part of Russian society and its leadership which calls for them not to pay attention to violations of the law, detentions, unbelievably massive falsifications in elections, and cruelty toward those protesting.”
The Belarusian protesters didn’t expect particular support from the Kremlin,” he adds; “but the position of the Russian media and the assessment of the events by many Russians in social networks has been discouraging. As a result, “Russia is now pushing away the most active part of Belarusian society.”
Moscow television, which many Belarusians watch, constantly suggests that the protesters in Belarus are destroying that country on orders from their Western masters. “This infuriates a very large number of Belarusians.” They now view Russians differently and far more negatively than they did until recently.
And for that, Moscow has only itself to blame.