Change of Russian ambassadors won’t slow Moscow’s effort to absorb Belarus, iSANS expert says

Alyaksandr Lukashenka with Russia's new ambassador to Belarus Dmitry Mezentsev 

International, Op-ed

The replacement of the brash Mikhail Babich by the more diplomatic Dmitry Mezentsev will not bring any fundamental change in Vladimir Putin’s drive to absorb Belarus into the Russian Federation, according to an iSANS expert. The public discourse may become more polite but Moscow’s policies toward Minsk are not going to ease up at all.

The expert of the International Strategic Action Network made these points speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issues involved. [For additional background on the change and on Mezentsev, see jamestown.org].

Given Babich’s undiplomatic style, the expert says, his departure had been expected for some time. His replacement may appear to be less “the bad cop” Babich has been, but he will pursue exactly the same goals. This shift is thus neither the turning point some think or a victory for Minsk some are giving it. Clearly, he continues,

“the Moscow attack on Belarusian sovereignty in the form of a blitzkrieg didn’t achieve its goals.” In fact, his very offensiveness may have set Moscow’s timetable back.

But Babich reflected the Kremlin’s goals and impatience and Mezentsev will as well, albeit in more diplomatic tones and behind the scenes rather than in the media.

It is unfortunately the case, the iSANS expert says, that “those who are making decisions about Belarus in Moscow have a distorted idea about Belarusian realities” and think Belarusians want what Moscow wants, recognition of the Belarusians and Russians as one people and a desire for the unity of the two countries. That is not the case.

“Now, Kremlin sources and commentators linked to the Kremlin are trying to make the best of a bad job by saying that Lukashenka got the departure of Babich and peaceful elections by offering in exchange deeper integration.” That isn’t what happened: there was no deal, or at least no deal that will hold.

It is “very improbable” that Moscow’s pressure on Belarus will cease or even weaken,” the expert says. Instead, the pressure may even increase but in a less public and more sophisticated way, one that Belarus may find it harder to counter or to gain foreign support against.

The latest “trial balloon” in Moscow’s drive is its call for a single parliament of the Union state. But “undoubtedly economic pressure will only intensify. We do not know at what stage the discussions about the possibilities of the incorporation by Russian business of Belarusian enterprise, but we know very well there is such interests and talks are taking place.”

To describe what has happened in simplest terms, he says, “Moscow’s new man in Minsk will not be a friend of Belarusian sovereignty even if stylistically the means of ‘resolving issues’ will be different now from what they were.”

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Edited by: A. N.

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