Vladimir Putin and Alyaksandr Lukashenka (Image: fedpress.ru)
Russia is currently seeking to raise the prospect of an “illusory” Maidan in Belarus to set the stage for Russia to intervene militarily in that country, depose Alyaksandr Lukashenka and install as Belarusian president a more pliant figure who would eventually agree to the absorption of Belarus by Russia, according to Kseniya Kirillova.
Last week, Kirillova reported that two Mensk experts, Arseniy Sivitsky and Yury Tsarik, had suggested that Vladimir Putin has adopted this strategy. (See “Moscow Preparing to Destabilize Belarus if Lukashenka Refuses to Allow a Russian Base, Two Mensk Experts Say”).
Now, the US-based Russian journalist offers additional evidence from the Russian press that the predictions of Sivitsky and Tsarik are correct and that Moscow is actually laying the groundwork for the creation of such an “illusory” Maidan and for a subsequent Russian intervention.
Nothing that she or they point to is as yet irreversible, but even if the Kremlin does not carry them out immediately, the possibility that Moscow will do so eventually has the effect of creating serious problems within Belarus for the opposition as well as the government even as it raises the stakes for the West about a country long treated as an international pariah.
First of all, if some in the opposition conclude that Russia is behind efforts to organize a Maidan in Mensk, they will be less likely to participate in it, thus helping Lukashenka retain power – a consequence Moscow has certainly pointed out and that the Belarusian leader understands perfectly well.
Second, the possibility that Russia may do so creates problems for the West as well because however sympathetic it would be to the replacement of Lukashenka, few Western leaders would want to see his departure become the occasion for Russian military intervention and the projection westward of Russian power.
And third, the prospect of such an “illusory” Maidan would create problems for the West more broadly on the post-Soviet space by calling into question such actions even when they are a genuine expression of the popular will and thus giving a new lease on life to the authoritarian regimes in many of these countries.
Among the Russian articles Kirillova cites is one by Moscow commentator Eduard Birov who suggested last April that Minsk needs to decide whose side it is on, Moscow’s or the West’s, and that if it makes the wrong choice, it will be “liquidated according to the ‘Ukrainian’ scenario.”
More recently, in another example of Moscow accusing the West of what it has itself done or is planning, Aleksey Pushkov, head of the Russian State Duma’s foreign relations committee, said Washington and Brussels are planning to organize a Maidan against Lukashenka in order to remove him.
And last week Moscow announced the beginning of joint exercises of Belarus, Russia, and Serbia, which it declared were intended for “the preparation and application of the joint grouping in a special operation for uncovering and destroying a center for the preparation of illegal armed formations.”
Such exercises, of course, might have many targets, but the possibility that Belarus might be among them is suggested by an article, not cited by Kirillova, but that appeared on the Regnum news agency today. It argued that the Belarusian military was not as significant as Mensk thinks, an indication of Russian calculations.
But even more important than these moves, the journalist says, are other signs that Moscow is preparing to move in Mensk. “Now it is already no secret,” Kirillova continues, “that Russia prepared for its aggression against Ukraine in advance,” organizing separatist groups in the Donbas and preparing Russian public opinion with the idea that “’Nazis’” would come to power in Ukraine if Moscow did not act.
She points to the appearance of a new dystopian novel in Moscow, “The Belarusian Tocsin” by Aleksandr Afanasyev. Set in 2020, its cover announces that six years after the Ukrainian Maidan, “the world has not become more secure” and that Western special services are moving to destabilize Belarus.
And she notes that writers like the Eurasianist leader Aleksandr Dugin, who is influential in the Kremlin, has been quite prepared of late to threaten countries that do not go along with Russia with Moscow-organized destabilization campaigns and even total destruction.
Summing up her article, Kirillova says that “even a rapid survey shows that the Kremlin media are actively preparing public opinion in Russia and neighboring countries for war, destabilization, coups, and ‘color revolutions’ – and that as a result, there will be a need to introduce forces into these countries under the pretext of ‘restoring the constitutional order.’”
This means, she suggests, that there is a great risk that Moscow will act on its “imperialist fantasies” and that other countries, in this case, Belarus, and the West must be thinking about how to block or counter such actions.