Belarus now prime candidate for Russian invasion, and anti-Lukashenka protests may hasten it

Anti-government protests in Mensk, Belarus on February 17, 2017 (Image BelaPAN)

Anti-government protests in Minsk, Belarus on February 17, 2017 (Image BelaPAN) 

Analysis & Opinion, Belarus, Military analysis, Russia

In the course of an interview with Kyiv’s Apostrophe portal, Russian commentator Andrey Illarionov says that “Belarus is candidate number one for a Russian invasion,” a conclusion that takes on added weight given that the Kremlin is likely to view anti-Lukashenka protests as a cover for such actions just as it did earlier in Ukraine.

Andrey Illarionov (Image: kasparov.ru)

Andrey Illarionov (Image: kasparov.ru)

“No state in Europe can be completely isolated from possible aggression of an informational, corruption, propagandistic, espionage or hybrid character,” Illarionov says; but “as far as its conventional [form] is concerned, Belarus at present is candidate number one.”

The probability of Russia’s invading Belarus depends “above all,” he says, “on the state of Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s health and the stability of his round-the-clock ties with other members of the Belarusian leadership.” If the Belarusian president were to be out of contact for 24 hours, “extremely serious temptations and risk could arise.”

On the one hand, Illarionov says, Moscow depends on Lukashenka: “Practically any other Belarusian government would adopt a course toward integration with Europe.” But on the other, Moscow is increasingly angry at Lukashenka for his independence and may want to take more radical measures to bring Minsk back into line.

The Kremlin has several possible options, ranging from replacing Lukashenka with someone on whom Russia can rely more confidently while allowing Belarus to preserve its “formal national independence” or take steps toward “the complete integration of that country into Russia,” something that would require at a minimum a show of extreme force.

Illarionov’s analysis is given new urgency by developments in Belarus in the last several days, including the largest mass demonstration against Lukashenka since 2010. That is because, if Vladimir Putin follows the script he did in Ukraine, he may see such popular actions as portending another Maidan that would take Belarus even further out of Russia’s orbit.

Three years ago, Putin invaded Ukraine and illegally annexed Crimea, albeit in his favored “hybrid” way that allowed him to deny and many to accept his denials that that is exactly what he had done and is doing. And the Kremlin leader may remain convinced that the West, especially in its current disorder, will not take serious steps to block any such move.

Moreover, the likelihood that Putin will now decide on an invasion is likely increased by one aspect of the situation in Minsk that recalls Kyiv in 2013 and that is more frightening to the Kremlin leader than almost any other. The mass protest was not organized by the traditional opposition parties but was spontaneous from below and thus political in a new way.

That point has been made by two Belarusian outlets (BelarusPartisan.org and Naviny.by), and Moscow is likely to view this protest not as just the latest in a long line of Belarusian discontent but as something fundamentally new and threatening.

If that is the case, Putin is likely to move against Belarus in the coming days, especially if there are no clear signals from the West that such a move would make absolutely impossible any cooperation with Russia in the foreseeable future.


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Edited by: A. N.

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  • Alex George

    “Practically any other Belarusian government would adopt a course toward integration with Europe.”

    Would it? Like Putin, Lukashenka is generally supported by the nomenklatura of his country. Again like Putin, if he dies or gets deposed, he will most likely be replaced with someone very similar. The nomenklatura don’t want to lose their privileges, and they aren’t particularly enamoured of democracy. But they don’t want to be ruled from the Kremlin either.

    “If [there is a Maidan style uprising], Putin is likely to move against Belarus in the coming days, especially if there are no clear signals from the West that such a move would make absolutely impossible any cooperation with Russia in the foreseeable future.”

    I agree, if it was an uprising that toppled Lukashenka. But i don’t think clear or unclear signals from the West would have anything to do with it. Rather, it would be because it brings the prospect of a Moscow Maidan so much closer that the Russian elite would be desperate.

    • Dagwood Bumstead

      The dwarf has nothing to fear from the west should he move against Belarus. It’s not as if Lukashenko has any friends in the west- the opposite is true. The worst he will have to face is a few weak verbal protests, if that- but nothing more. There certainly won’t be any further sanctions; his 5th column allies Greece, Austria, Italy and others will see to that. And Merkel will be her usual useless self, insisting “we must talk with Putin” and delaying or even preventing any serious action as she did when the dwarf invaded Georgia, seized the Crimea and started his war in the Donbas.
      Clear or unclear signals from the west, the dwarf will move against Belarus when it suits him; he knows he will get away with it.

      • Alex George

        He will get away with it in the sense of the West not taking action, but that has never been his concern.

        • Dagwood Bumstead

          It is now, as new sanctions will further damage an already struggling Dwarfstanian economy.

          • veth
          • Greg

            I doubt any Western nation would expand sanctions against Russia should Putin decide to take over the country. Putin is right on the money in that the West is full of weak leaders and Trump is no different. Trump wants to kiss and make up with Putin so Trump own business interests can earn money. I believe Putin has nothing to worry about from the West. I am not sure at what point the West will grow a set of balls and stand up to this murdering leader/ it took a long time to stand against Hitler as well and Putin is today’s’ Hitler.

          • Dagwood Bumstead

            Poland, the Baltics, Sweden and the UK will definitely support stiffer sanctions. Rumania will probably do so as well. The rest of the EU, led by useless Adolfina Merkelain, won’t.

      • Secul8r

        The equation has changed recently and Belarus is suddenly of greater geostrategic importance.

        A Minsk government acquiescent to Moscow increases pressure on the Suwalki gap, rendering vulnerable the Baltic states and the NATO forces they now host.

        All EU/NATO members should find it difficult to resist further sanctions under these circumstances, especially those that fail to meet the 2% contribution.

        • Dagwood Bumstead

          True, and this is yet another reason why I consider the dwarf likely to invade Belarus, despite any potential resistance. As Chechnya showed, the dwarf will not hesitate to flatten Minsk or any other city if he considers it necessary. He didn’t care about dead Chechnyan civilians and he won’t care about dead Belarusians. Nor will he care about dead Dwarfstanian soldiers and mercenaries.

          • Alex George

            But he does care about losing.

            He needs a clear win, ie installation of the government he wants in Minsk, with a lid on dissidents.

          • Dagwood Bumstead

            The question is, though, will he lose if he decides to invade Belarus?

          • Alex George

            You know my thoughts on that: I think the odds are high that he will be drawn into another grind, like in donbass.

          • Dagwood Bumstead

            We agree to disagee, then.
            Anyway, let’s hope we won’t find out either way.

          • Alex George

            Agreed!

        • Alex George

          That is not a change.

          It has always been the case, hence why Moscow has been pressing Belarus for the last two years to accept more Russian forces permanently on its territory.

  • Eolone

    This rare demonstration was small (2000 people), with few police, and of financial nature: taxing workers who aren’t making it already. Close to a half-million are affected by the tax. Few pay it. Attacking the demonstrators would have brought out many more — and the possibility of violence.

    Putin doesn’t want another impasse, nor can he afford another. His tricks of takeover are already known. There is no voting scheduled. So, no meddling there. A rise of the alt-right is still possible; but expect early reaction to this. He has economic weapons to use against Belarus. This would seem to be the first choice, making Belarus’ economic downturn worse and protests violent. Then the environment would be ready for a takeover. (An invasion now would further threaten Ukrainian territory and would smoke out Trump and make Congress angry if he does not denounce Putin).

    Belarus military training: http://www.businessinsider.com/photos-belarus-special-forces-2014-2

    • MichaelA

      cool link
      especially using the sledge hammer on his stomach

  • veth

    Russia plotted to assassinate the prime minister of a European nation and overthrow its government last year, according to senior Whitehall sources.

    An election day coup plot to attack Montenegro’s parliament and kill the pro-Western leader was directed by Russian intelligence officers with the support and blessing of Moscow, to sabotage the country’s plan to join Nato.

    • Greg

      no out cry from Western nations about this nor any increase in sanctions. Putin has a clear hand to cause as much trouble as he wants in any country because we will not stand against him. The USA will do nothing about Russian abuse of their election process. Putin is laughing at all of us, just as Hitler was sure no one would stand against him, Putin is in a better position as the West has shown to be coward paper tigers.

  • Vol Ya

    There is nothing Russia can do to reverse its demographic decline. It is arithmetic at this time – rising poverty and disease rates and declining life expectancy. So what does putin do. He attacks and tries to destroy and destabilize other countries to try and make Russia look better incomparison. It won’t work. Nobody wants to move to or to live in Russia.

  • Greg

    If the present leadership cannot calm things down quickly Belarus will be gone, to be taken over by Putin who cannot afford Belarus to fail. it does not matter what costs are involved for Putin, he cannot have another nation close to Russia over throw a government. How can he explain it to his own nation? No I am afraid that Putin has much more to gain by invading Belarus, he will surround Ukraine and be able to build a land bridge to Kaliningrad quickly. Additionally Belarus will enable Putin to place more missiles close to European nations further away from Russian soil. I doubt Trump will care, he is too busy being a fool in Washington. I think Trump should get a jester’s hat!