2nd podcast episode: Is the future of Belarus in Russia’s hands?


What scenarios for Belarus could be in Russia’s “weapons arsenal”, how much resources would Putin be ready to spend in support of Lukashenko? And finally, could Russia decide on such a radical step as the takeover of Belarus by force? In the 2nd episode of video podcast “Foreign Policy. Russia. Commentaries.” by the Centre for East European Policy Studies (CEEPS) Mārcis Balodis, the researcher of CEEPS and Vladimir Milov, economist and Russian opposition politician comment.

Widespread public protests expressing dissatisfaction with the regime of the former head of state Alexander Lukashenko began in Belarus in July of this year. Although the protests are essentially aimed at the public’s desire to bring about domestic political change in the country, the question about Russia’s possible role in the future of Belarus arises at the same time. Russia and Belarus are closely linked, both politically and economically, – emphasizes M. Balodis.

Both public protests and Western pressure on Alexander Lukashenko’s regime are actually narrowing Belarus’ chances of receiving help or expecting a welcoming attitude from the West, as Western demands are largely based on arguments that require the Lukashenko’s regime to show obliging attitude or even to make concessions. The current regime is unlikely to make such concessions in order not to lose its position and give extra legitimacy to the protesters, – researcher explains.

Balodis draws attention to the importance of regional centres of power, emphasized in the Russia’s strategic planning documents, – strong countries bring together smaller, weaker countries, thus creating a bunch of certain countries, governing the respective geographical region. Maintaining and even increasing Russia’s influence in Belarus in this situation would not only satisfy its imperialist interests, but would also lay the groundwork for Russia to justify its position in international politics and to be on a par with the United States and the EU, – researcher explains.

In addition, Belarusian room for manoeuvrer is reduced by its close economic ties with Russia. For example, 44% percent of the country’s produce in 2017 was exported to Russia. Accordingly, Russia is a very important, in fact even invaluable economic ally for Belarus. And it is also supplemented by regular loans granted by Russia, discounts in purchase of energy, which strengthens the already established chain of economic dependence. Thus, Russia is in a very advantageous situation, – explains Balodis.

He emphasizes that given Belarus’s limited capacity to receive support from the West, and its close economic and political ties with Russia, the latter has virtually all the cards in its hands to make the most direct impact on the future of Belarus. This leaves Russia with two possible scenarios. Russia may decide to take over Belarus by force, but this is unlikely at the moment, because politically it is a very risky manoeuvrer. Therefore, it is expected that Russia is likely to use economic as well as political dependence to strengthen and consolidate its influence in the country, bringing Belarus closer to Russia not only economically but also politically and possibly at the social level, thus ensuring that Belarus is Russia’s main partner for the foreseeable future, – Balodis concludes.

Economist Vladimir Milov points out that, in his view, Putin and Russia, of course, want to control the situation in Belarus, but do not want to take full responsibility, because developments in Belarus in recent decades have not been very optimistic.

Milov draws attention to the data of Russian public opinion polls, in which most Russians see the Belarus potentially joining Russia as a burden that would require heavy subsidies from Russian taxpayers. Most Russians do not want that and Putin is clearly aware of it, the economist notes.

Putin would like to control Belarus, but with limited means. Most likely, to help Lukashenko, he would be willing to maneuver with little resources. But in case of failure, Putin would not help him to the fullest, but would try to establish a relationship with anyone who would replace Lukashenko, Milov predicts.