Belarusian crisis: Moscow's interests, options and Lukashenko's fate

(To Andrea Gaspardo)

After examining, in my previous analysis, the internal situation and Lukashenko's failures in the management of the country, we now pass to analyze the geopolitical dimension of the Belarusian crisis and what its outcomes could be in the near future.

It is impossible to analyze the geopolitical problems and the power games that are taking place on Minsk's head without taking into consideration the privileged relations existing between Belarus and Russia, as well as the national interests that Russia has in and around Belarus, not forgetting the historical past between the two countries.

As already mentioned in the previous analysis (, the economic relations existing between Russia and Belarus are very important, especially for the latter. Russia absorbs 46,3% of Belarus' exports and supplies 54,2% of the country's imports. Belarus is almost totally dependent on Russia for the supply of fuels for industrial and domestic use and the export of Belarus itself is largely made up of petroleum products of Russian origin refined in Belarus, which makes the country in all respects a "rentier state" (state that lives on rent). Russia also provides subsidies of various kinds to Belarus, which amount to about 10% of Minsk's GDP and help to literally keep the public finances of the Lukashenko regime afloat.

There is also another dimension that is not always easy to assess: that of the labor market. Belarus is not only a member of a number of regional organizations centered around Russia, such as the Commonwealth of Independent States, the Eurasian Customs Union, the Organization for the Collective Security Treaty and the Eurasian Economic Union, but starting since 1999, together with Russia, it has been part of the so-called “State Union of Russia and Belarus” which we have already talked about in the previous analysis.

One of the least talked about aspects of the "Russia-Belarus Union" is the so-called "Treaty on Equal Rights of Citizens between Russia and Belarus". Under the aforementioned treaty, the citizens of the two states enjoy equal protection in both countries as regards the world of work, education and medical treatment. This is a very important point because, from 1999 to the present, it has allowed Belarusian citizens to, literally, "use Russia" as a substitute for their country's shortcomings in the fields mentioned above.

If Belarus can still boast an "official" unemployment rate that does not exceed two percentages, it is above all thanks to the fact that the Russian labor market absorbs a large part of the potential Belarusian unemployment. Not only that, since Lukashenko began to pursue his anti-abortion policies in the last few years, an increasing number of Belarusian women have chosen Russia, in particular the hospitals of the Smolensk and Bryansk oblasts, to carry out their interruptions. of pregnancy, given the greater liberality of the Russian law on the matter.

Once all these elements have been gathered, it is understood that the relationship between the two countries is completely skewed in favor of Russia, and it would be difficult otherwise given the disparity in size. By way of example, just remember that Belarus absorbs only 4,9% of the Moscow expot and supplies 5,2% of imports. This difference in "specific weight" is masterfully represented by the shops specializing in the sale of Belarusian products that can occasionally be found in large Russian cities and where the Russians go mainly to buy the famous "Belarusian milk" about which the well-known comedian Russian Maksim Aleksandrovich Galkin has created some of his most memorable humorous sketches.

Thinking from a strictly economic point of view, it would be tempting to say that Belarus could even represent a "burden" for Russia, and the numbers would apparently give reason to this cutting comment. On closer inspection, however, geopolitics is different from economics, and it requires us to adopt a broader perspective.

Since the medieval era of "Kievan Rus'", the territories of today's Belarus have always played the vital function of a "buffer zone" against all the invaders who from the West have tried to aim at the heart of Russia and its civilization in an attempt to destroy "That strange Minotaur that European civilizations have never been able to truly perceive as part of them" to use the allegorical words of Hitler played by the actor Karl Krantskovski in the film “Белый тигр” (The White Tiger) by the Russian-Armenian director Karen Georgievich Shakhnazarov.

One after another, the Polish-Lithuanian invasions of the 1700th, 1721th and 1812th centuries, the invasion of the King of Sweden Charles XII during the "Great Northern War" (XNUMX-XNUMX), the Napoleonic invasion of XNUMX and the German invasions during the “First World War” and the “Second World War” all used the territory of today's Belarus as a springboard to point to the heart of Russia.

The fact that all these invasions have resulted in costly failures seems to teach nothing to the enemies of Russia of each successive era who continue undaunted to follow the same path in pursuit of the same vanishing goal: to arrive at the gates of Moscow.

Precisely the bloody lessons of history have taught the various tenants of the Kremlin that the geopolitical control (direct or indirect) of Belarus is an indispensable condition for guaranteeing the security and national survival of Russia. It is therefore important to state, as a necessary premise, that in the unfortunate scenario in which things should go really bad and foreign armies end up trampling on Belarusian soil, it is very predictable that the Russians will never give up and will be determined to fight to protect their national interests in what they consider their "Near Abroad".

Given the strategic importance of Belarus due to its geographical proximity to Moscow, the political, demographic and economic heart of Russia (by way of example, it will suffice to remember that Moscow alone produces half of Russia's GDP and, between residents and commuter workers, is crossed by 40 million people every single day, out of a total population of Russia that amounts to just over 146 million people) and for its function of connecting Russia itself with the enclave of Kaliningrad, it can be said that, in the case of external attack aimed at taking control of its "younger sister", retreat will never be an option for Russia; just as it would not be for any other great power in a comparable situation.

Moscow and Minsk are already benefiting from deep military integration today. Officially, the Russians have 2 military installations in the territory of Belarus; more specifically, the large Gantsavichy radar complex, located near the city of Baranovichy and operated by the 474th Independent Radio-Technical Unit, and the 43's VLF transmitterth Communications Center of the Russian Navy, located near the town of Vileyka. Both represent fundamental infrastructures for the Russian military device as Vileyka's VLF transmitter is used to send encrypted messages to Russian Navy submarines patrolling the Atlantic while the Gantsavichy radar, of the type 70M6 Volga, built between 1985 and 2002 , is a very important and non-replaceable component (at least in the short and medium term) of the Russian Federation's anti-ballistic missile defense system. Beyond these two main strategic installations, however, there is a huge network of secondary and “potential” installations that is difficult to quantify. For example, according to the clauses of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, in case of external aggression, Belarus would give full and free access to all its air bases to V-VS, the Air Forces of the Russian Federation, which in fact contribute both economically and logistically to keep them efficient.

The entire Belarusian air defense system that controls both radar and missile systems is fully integrated with the Russian one and the same applies to the infrastructures managed by the Border Guards, always in constant coordination with their Moscow counterparts.

From the former Soviet Union, Belarus inherited the strategic infrastructures of the military base of Maryina Gorka, located not far from Minsk, which in Soviet times were of fundamental importance for the formation of the Spetsnaz, the Special Maybe of the USSR first and of the post-Soviet states now, and it is normal for the "specialists" of the Russian Armed Forces to conduct regular refresher courses and joint exercises with their Belarusian "colleagues" at the very center.

Another area in which the collaboration between Russia and Belarus should not be underestimated is that of the training of military cadres, given that a large part of the military cadres of the Perhaps Armed Armies of the Republic of Belarus receive their education in the Russian military academies in 23 different military schools and academies that report directly to the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation.

Finally, there is the technical-scientific-industrial sector which sees the defense industries of the two countries firmly integrated into a common network of reciprocal suppliers and sub-suppliers, so much so that some observers have even coined the term “Russian-Belarusian Military-Industrial Complex”.

In light of what we have seen so far, it is now necessary to ask ourselves how the mass protests that are for the first time shaking the Belarusian regime from its foundations are perceived today in Moscow and how the Kremlin will act to protect its legitimate national interests (because, precisely, the amount of data and facts set out above must make everyone understand, even the most Russophobic readers and commentators, that Russian national interests in Belarus are absolutely "legitimate", not to say "vital", to net of the interests of other countries).

Regarding the perception of the Belarusian protests by the Russian media, the signals we are receiving are not encouraging. Both the official media and the inevitable factories of troll, more or less connected with the variegated world of the Russian "deep state", have begun to bomb the Russian population, which is also subject to a dramatic decline in appreciation of its domestic political leadership, with news related to supposed foreign plots, like those re-launched by Lukashenko himself. According to these reports, the demonstrators would be, at best, "sheep" who have been duped by foreign propaganda and, at worst, themselves anti-patriotic agents in the pay of the NATO potentates among which the inevitable Poland and Lithuania.

If for Lukashenko the question is, literally, of life or death, therefore it should not be surprising that he uses all the weapons of his propaganda to mobilize his (now scarce) supporters, as well as to collect credit in Moscow, the reasons of such a narrative by Russia are more subtle. On the one hand, there is the need not to be surprised by any serious destabilization operations carried out by NATO countries, as happened in 2014 in Ukraine, and, on the other, given that the possibility that Russia must intervene militarily on the territory of the "younger sister" is far from derisory, the continuation of a vilifying campaign against the opposition and the Belarusian protesters is quintessential to keep the Russian population mobilized and, if historical circumstances require it, prepare it for the worst.

But how much truth is there in this representation? In reality very little. By closely monitoring NATO activities, we see that the only actions that can "bring water" to the Kremlin's propaganda mill are the overt and covert activities of the "Centralna Grupa Dzialan Psychologicznych" (translatable as "Central Group of Psychological Actions"), unit belonging to the Special Forces of the Polish Armed Forces headquartered in Bydgoszcz and responsible for providing information and psychological and structural assessments on the military forces and civilian population of enemy countries in order to achieve objectives of a political, military and propaganda nature. Given that already in the course of "Euromaidan" the "Centralna Grupa Dzialan Psychologicznych" had been widely used in support of the activities of the rioters / coup leaders, one might be tempted to believe that it is now working hard to organize a "Belomaidan ". However, this "logical consequence" is absolutely misleading.

As already extensively discussed in the previous analysis concerning the domestic dimension of the Belarusian crisis, the Belarusians and Belarus cannot in any way be united with the Ukrainians and Ukraine. Ukraine is a country that many years before "Euromaidan" had been infiltrated from everywhere by "non-governmental organizations" of any kind (often real insurgent structures fully armed!) And the Ukrainians had already demonstrated for over a decade a marked propensity for unrest and social revolt (as in the case of the "Orange Revolution" which brought Viktor Yushchenko to power in 2005). On the contrary, Belarusians have always stood out for their social composure and passive / wait-and-see attitude towards the authorities in power. Internal opposition groups have always existed and indeed some student associations have proved very combative, especially in the attempt to defend and propagate the use of the Belarusian language, but every time such groups have raised the bar of their demands too much by coming perceived as excessively "anti-Russian", it was the very majority of the population that marginalized them. We must not believe that the media and the opposition figures based abroad for years have a who knows what great hold on citizenship given that they often end up being perceived as "subservient to foreign designs".

Even the attempt to accuse not well-defined "foreign Masonic plots" as the origin of the current evils of the country is absolutely reductive and silly. The only "para-Masonic" associations present in the country are "Rotary International" and "Lions Clubs International" but both the activities of Rotarians and those of Lions have always been subjected to very strict control by the KGB / KDB of Belarus. As regards the real Freemasonry, the only Masonic lodges legally present in Belarus are the lodge N ° 23 "Alpha and Omega", the N ° 25 "White Knight" and the N ° 38 "Two Eagles", all three headquartered in Minsk but forming an integral part of the "Grand Lodge of Russia". None of the structures mentioned above has the connections, the skills and, above all, the freedom of action to organize a "Belomaidan".

Having therefore ascertained that the arguments used by Russian propaganda to excite the phobias of its own population are literally based on nothing, we must now ask ourselves: those who sit in the button rooms, in the Kremlin as in the ministries and study centers of the country, are able to measure the real pulse of the situation in Belarus beyond the lies they tell their own public opinion?

Fortunately, in this case, the clues we have at our disposal are much more encouraging and can be found by carefully analyzing the public positions of the Russian authorities.

Although in the aftermath of the proclamation of the results of the fraudulent presidential elections, Russia was among the first countries to compliment Lukashenko on his "re-election", the explosion and the anomalous scale of the protests made the Russians realize quite quickly that something this time, it happened differently and, in the following days, Russia took a more "secluded" position.

It is worth noting in this delicate situation the different positions taken by Beijing and Moscow itself. While China has in fact reiterated its support for the country's leadership (read: to Lukashenko), Russia has instead adopted a more prudent position speaking instead of “guaranteeing the stability of Belarus within the framework of international treaties and alliances”. Of course, Russian President Putin did not deny having repeatedly heard his Belarusian counterpart on the phone, however, contrary to what the Italian media said in a careless manner, Putin did not at all promise Lukashenko that the Russian military "will shoot at the Belarusian civilian population. ". The same mobilization of the Belarusian armed forces, repeatedly trumpeted from the rooftops by Lukashenko himself, has so far been directed towards the western borders with Poland and Lithuania using the pretext of "NATO mobilization", but the tanks of the Belarusian army do not they still saw each other on the streets of Minsk or other important Belarusian cities, a sign that even at the top of the country there is the awareness that using the military instrument against the people so lightly is not a choice to be taken lightly since the military does not have any specific training to handle situations of "civil unrest" unlike the militia forces (the police in Belarus still use the old Soviet name). Worse still, given that, with the exception of the first two nights after the elections, the protests have so far been absolutely peaceful (another Marchian difference compared to the Ukrainian case), ordering conscripts to fire at unarmed civilians could indeed have the effect of causing mass uprisings in the ranks of soldiers with unpredictable consequences.

Thanks to the deep entanglements they have inside the country and the diplomatic and intelligence presence not only in Minsk but also in the more peripheral areas, the Russians know that Lukashenko is beginning to lack "the carpet under his feet", however they are nipping again on the possibility of "pulling the plug" for lack of a serious interlocutor on the side of the opposition. Not only that, in order to implement an effective strategy on the Belarusian quadrant, it is first necessary that a sort of "unity of purpose" be recovered in Moscow itself.

All those who have in their heads the idea of ​​Russian power as a monolith that advances menacingly and inexorably, take a colossal crab. Since the Tsarist era, and passing through the Soviet era, up to the present day, Russia's decision-making leaders have always been characterized by a deaf (and at times even violent!) Struggle for supremacy between the various centers of power that oppose the 'Office of the Presidency, the Ministry of Defense, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the FSB, the SVR and so on and so forth. A consequence of this relentless struggle is mutual distrust, if not the real hostility between the aforementioned entities, which results in the difficulty of making rapid and effective decisions, as the events in Ukraine have shown in all their drama. 2014.

If Russia really wants to win in Minsk and not suffer a new geopolitical catastrophe, it is necessary that the aforementioned centers of power dialogue with each other and come together in a unity of purpose by sharing information and setting up a common strategy. This strategy necessarily implies the protection of the vital interests of Russia already widely mentioned in the first part of the current analysis which can be summarized with the formula that, "at the end of the post-electoral transition process, Belarus will still remain within the sphere of privileged people of Moscow ".

To achieve this, the Russian leadership is presented with three possible scenarios, each characterized by a certain degree of risk:

Unconditional support for Lukashenko: represents the easiest and least risky way in the short term. It presupposes that Moscow gives Lukashenko the green light to carry out indiscriminate repression and, if necessary, give covert or overt support to his regime. Such a plan may succeed in saving Lukashenko now, but it would simply result in moving the problem into the future. The regime of the president-master of Minsk is already largely discredited in the eyes of his people. A direct intervention in its support would lead to a fall in prestige even for Russia itself in the eyes of the Belarusians and this must be absolutely avoided. In the long run, this strategy would bring with it the seeds of disaster. This choice represents in my opinion the worst case scenario for the long-term protection of Russia's interests.

Forced annexation of Belarus: as early as 1996, the now deceased colonel of Russian military intelligence (GRU), Anton Surikov, the specialist in subversive operations of the Russian Special Forces, formulated a plan (the so-called "Surikov Protocol") on the basis of which, in unfortunate possibility that Belarus would try to join NATO, Russia's final choice to resolve the dispute in light of the failure of diplomatic initiatives should be a military invasion of Belarus which would be followed by its incorporation into the Russian Federation. A prospect that will shake the wrists, especially the Baltics and the Poles, and which would dust off the ghosts of Georgia 2008 and Ukraine 2014 but elevating them on a national scale because here it would no longer be simply a matter of "stealing territories or a region" but of suppressing tout court an independent state and a member of the UN. The last time Russia attempted such a feat was 80 years ago when, in 1940, the three Baltic Republics were forcibly annexed by the then Soviet Union after having been occupied a year earlier. Although not totally disliked by both the Russian and Belarusian electorate, such an initiative would provoke such an international reaction as to be very difficult to assess. It would certainly lock Russia in the ghetto of the "pariah countries" but in a condition, if possible, worse than that of countries like Iran or North Korea. Not even powers that have always supported Moscow in the shadows, such as India, could pretend to look the other way. Such an action would then have the effect of provoking the flight towards other shores of all the other countries of the ex-Soviet space which at this point would have very serious reasons to worry about their own stability and independence. This choice would solve the Belarusian problem at its root but, given the scenarios it would open up, it must necessarily be kept as a last resort;

Take the lead in change: this scenario is the most elaborate of all and also the most difficult to manage and implement but, if performed with the necessary cunning and determination, it could prove to be the correct one to achieve a "win-win situation", for Moscow as well as for the people Belarusian. Under this scenario, Moscow would have to secretly make contact with both the Belarusian opposition and its entrenched "Belarusian deep state" in order to create an alternative to Lukashenko and then unseat him at the right moment. Ironically, Moscow would find itself leading a full-blown "regime change" operation. It is interesting to note that in the last 10 years, the elites of the Kremlin have been able to accredit themselves to dictators and authoritarian regimes around the world thanks to the promise to "protect" them from this type of threats feared by the West (Syria represents in this context the case textbook!). However, the fact that such an initiative could increase Moscow's prestige among the Belarusian population and would give the Kremlin unparalleled levers of power and freedom of action make it the best choice among the three mentioned.

Which choice will Putin and his men ultimately choose? In reality, knowing them and analyzing their past, they will choose all three together, to be implemented step by step. At first they will support Lukashenko, as they seem to be doing now, but not uncritically and always keeping an "escape route" in place.

The support given to the Belarusian dictator could last weeks, up to a maximum of 3 months, this is the time frame after which the Belarusian economy would no longer be able to manage the weight of protests and uncertainty, starting to creak fearfully . This time frame will also be necessary to test the resolve of the various souls of the Belarusian opposition and of the people as a whole. If the Belarusian surge of pride is truly equal to what they had in the years following Chernobyl and which led them to independence, then despite the economic crisis, the Covid-19 epidemic, threats and repression, they are not they will give up and continue to manifest to the extreme.

If the repression fails and the protests continue to grow in intensity and scale, then Moscow may decide to "take the lead in change". The long period of preparation and underground negotiations with both the Belarusian establisment and the opposition will ultimately lead to a general agreement for the management of the power transition and the parties will agree to form a temporary "co-domination".

The climatic point of this phase would be the overthrow of Lukashenko from his position of power. The choice of the term "killing" is not accidental because those who believe that Lukashenko will accept a "retirement", even "forced", imposed on him by Moscow makes a huge error of assessment!

Aleksandr Grigoryevich Lukashenko was born on August 30, 1954 and was raised only by his mother, Ekaterina Trofimovna Lukashenko, whose surname he took. It is not known what is the origin of his patronymic "Grigoryevich" (literally "son of Grigory"). It would imply that his father was called Grigory, but that could also have been an invention of the mother only to give a patronymic to the son born in who knows what sordid circumstances.

The fact of being a bastard son (in the countries of that part of Europe you don't go too far when it comes to identifying the "illegitimate") has persecuted little Lukashenko throughout his youth leading him to be regularly marginalized, beaten and mocked by the other children. Lukashenko has already suffered in his youth every kind of humiliation that a man can feel in life so, if I have been able to understand from the psychological point of view what are the thoughts that are stirred in his mind, he is not afraid of anything and anyone and he will never be humiliated again in life. This situation is made even more complicated by the fact that, in addition to his legitimate children, Viktor and Dmitry, both pillars of his regime, he has in turn generated a bastard, the now XNUMX-year-old Nikolay, who in his father's original plans would have a day due to succeed him as president.

Lukashenko's obsessive relationship with the young Nikolay (pictured), testimony to the suffering Aleksandr suffered as a child, should take away any illusions that Lukeshanko will come to terms with anyone. No, never again in his life will he be an "illegitimate". Thus, the final word on the earthly parable of Lukashenko and his three sons, legitimate and otherwise, will pass to the Russian colonel Kirill Kornusov and his men from the "Alfa Group" and "Vympel Group", the elite perhaps of the FSB which, at the end of the due period of preparation, and supported by an uprising of the Armed Forces of Belarus to be started at the right time (perhaps after a genuine accident or a planned massacre), will carry out an assault on the "Palazzo dell 'Independence' in Minsk as they already did in Kabul in 1979, making sure that the “Belarusian royal family” does not survive to tell indiscreet ears the most unspeakable state secrets that already today do not make many people in Moscow sleep peacefully.

What will happen in the next 1 or 2 years of transition is very difficult to predict. Much will depend on Moscow's ability to bend the Belarusian opposition to its will, but if the most hostile and anti-Russian elements prevail and if the economic and security situation in "White Russia" were to degenerate to the point of leaving no other choice , then with a swipe the Kremlin will adopt the "Surikov Protocol" and Belarus will simply go back to becoming a "region" of the "Great Motherland Russia".

Photo: RIA Novosti / Kremlin / web / MoD Russian Fed / BBC / Facebook