By attempting to overthrow Lukashenko, Putin risks his own throne20.08.2020
Everyone has their eyes on the events currently taking place in Belarus. I am sure that there weren’t a lot of people who doubted that the official election results will see Lukashenko win. Everyone also knew that the elections wouldn’t be fair. But there was one surprise – widespread protests erupted, uncharacteristically for Belarus, because of the election results.
As strange as it sounds, the one who initially warned about possible unrest was Lukashenko himself. Belarus’ national news agency BELTA informed that on the night of 29 July law enforcement officials had detained near Minsk 32 mercenaries of the Russian private military company Vagner, while another person had been detained in southern Belarus. It was reported that there are 200 additional persons in the territory of Belarus and that they are being searched for, adding that it is like looking for a needle in a haystack. The aim of these people was to destabilize the situation during the election campaign.1 This means that Russia, or Putin, to be more precise, is interested in destabilizing the situation in Belarus.
It is often possible to gain understanding about a situation by thinking about who benefits from it. In the case of Belarus, we must understand who would want Lukashenko out of the picture. Lukashenko, undoubtedly, is one of the last dictators (after Putin, of course), and we can be certain that Belarusians want to live differently, but was it only the sudden will of the Belarusian people that allowed for mass unrest in a totalitarian state? I believe that Belarusian secret services would have quickly neutralized such “activists”.
Who else would be interested in removing Lukashenko? Leaders of the EU? The United States? Let’s be completely honest – they indeed support democracy, but I highly doubt that anyone would be interested in engaging in particular activities to overthrow Lukashenko. We can condemn Lukashenko for several things, but in general I would even say that the EU and the US are more interested in Lukashenko remaining the president of Belarus. Why? Quite simple – there is one person who despises Lukashenko and who has not been able to break or subdue him. This person is none other than the emperor next door Vladimir Putin, who was even forced to toy with the constitution because Lukashenko stubbornly resisted the creation of a unified state, denying Putin an even higher post. We also have to mention energy disputes between Belarus and Russia, as well as the unwillingness of Belarus to establish new Russian military bases.
If we look at the situation in Belarus from Putin’s point of view, he wants to replace the stubborn Lukashenko with someone more obedient and loyal to the Kremlin. How can he do this? We already know the answer – by sparking unrest.
It is still impossible to determine how everything truly unfolded, but we can certainly put forward our hypotheses.
So, before the election Lukashenko got rid of the candidates that could threaten him and left those who are less dangerous – it is democratic, after all. He also believed that local unrest would be easily suppressed, considering Lukashenko’s experience in this regard. However, the protests and local aggression opened the gates for the lawlessness of Belarusian power structures. No one can tell whether the local conflicts were initiated by those 200 people that were still in Belarus, but it is highly likely – especially if we remember Russia’s engagement in Ukraine.
However, this time something went wrong. Instead of increasing violence, the Belarusian people decided to participate in peaceful protests, which continued and are continuing to expand. I don’t believe Putin expected such a turn of events. Lukashenko understood that it’s one thing if Putin wants to make his life “more interesting”, but it’s something entirely different if Putin now desperately wants for the protests to end and for Lukashenko to remain in power. The reason for this is that Russians could take an example from their neighbors and start their own protests. In the Russian Far Eastern city of Khabarovsk, people have been protesting for six days in a row in support of former governor Sergey Furgal and the participants of these protests have also expressed support for Belarus.2 This means that Putin too is in a complicated situation and he could turn from being the overthrower into being the one overthrown.
Why do we even believe that Putin has anything to do with all of this? There is no direct evidence, but there is plenty of indirect evidence. First, he has a motive, the resources and previous experience. Second, the fact that Lukashenko is actively phoning Putin signals that Lukashenko believes Putin is not behind all of the protests. Believe it or not, but if you’re closely following the events in Belarus you would have noticed that after having a conversation with Putin the violence decreased and what remained were only the peaceful protests of the regular people.
What was the outcome of these conversations? The Vagner mercenaries detained in Belarus were given back to Russia, who in turn stated that they will not be punished. However, there are two significant aspects. First, despite the situation in Minsk being far from peaceful, Lukashenko ordered to relocate the Vitebsk air assault brigade to Grodno in western Belarus. In the Ministry of Defense’s Strategic Command Center, representatives of the Belarusian Armed Forces informed about increasing “the military component” near the country’s western borders. Lukashenko is concerned about NATO drills taking place in Belarus’ neighboring countries. He stated that arming has escalated in these territories.3 One of the most combat capable units is being redeployed near the border while Minsk is in chaos? It just doesn’t seem logical. Well, Minsk lies between Vitebsk and Grodno, so the troops could stay in Minsk for a couple of days. Next, according to numerous media reports and photos available online the Conflict Intelligence Team (CIT) has identified trucks of the Russian National Guard heading in the direction of the Belarusian border.4 Where are they going and what will they do – I hope we never find out.
One thing is certain – even if those behind the initial protests had other goals, this opened the gates for the Belarusian people to unite and express their opinion regarding the election, thus shaking the foundations of power in Belarus. Such a scenario was not foreseen neither by Lukashenko, nor Putin, who is now afraid of something similar happening in Russia. Therefore, it is very likely – as history has shown us numerous times – that enemies have now united to remain in power. But I do hope that first Belarus and then Russia will decide to get rid of Europe’s last dictators. It looks like this time Putin has miscalculated, and the initial idea of overthrowing Lukashenko could end with Putin himself being overthrown.
Zintis Znotiņš спеціально для INTERNATIONAL CENTER FOR COUNTERING RUSSIAN PROPAGANDA