Belarus President Alyaksandr Lukashenka with Vladimir Putin and Putin's defense minister Sergey Shoygu observing joint military exercises (Image: kremlin.ru)
Belarus is not currently threatened by a Russian action like the one Moscow has carried out in Ukraine because Minsk has set up its own groups of “little green men” and the Kremlin knows that even if it moved troops into its western neighbor, it would not be able to control it, according to Ihar Tyshkevich.Indeed, the analyst at Kyiv’s Institute for the Future argues, Belarus is sufficiently well-protected that Ukrainians stop being nervous about the joint Russian-Belarusian Zapad 2017 exercises and instead recognize that if Kyiv had taken the same steps Minsk has, Moscow would have failed in Crimea and the Donbas.
“Exercises in Belarus are a traditional scarecrow for the Ukrainian media,” Tyshkevich says; but “for Belarus they aren’t dangerous.” That is because the Russians know that they could easily seize Belarus at almost any time, but “who would control” that country afterwards? The answer is far from clear.
Belarusians are subject to “strong Russian information influence” and half or more “consider that Russia acted justly in taking Crimean from Ukraine. But when asked directly, “If Russia tried to take control over [Belarus] by military means, what would you do?” 17 to 24 percent say they would resist “with arms in their hands.”
Even if the lower of these two figures is the case, it is far higher than what was true in Ukraine in 2014, the Kyiv analyst says.
But there are two other reasons why Belarus is better equipped to resist, Tyshkevich says. On the one hand, “over the last 15 years,” he says, Alyaksandr Lukashenka “has actively destroyed pro-Russian organizations and set to prison all those who have displayed any signs of treason.”
And on the other, the Belarusian leader has “created special secret structures” to resist any Russian move, “including in particular a coordination council of commanders of special assignment forces.” These structures can deploy from 2,000 to 3,000 heavily-armed men “in two to three hours” and make any attempt at occupation by Russia very difficult if not impossible.
Had Ukraine had something like that in 2014, the Kyiv analyst suggests, Moscow’s Anschluss of Crimea and its intervention in the Donbas would have been doomed to failure.
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