Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Poor Belarus: So Far From God. So Close to Putin

Belarus is feeling worried these days. With Putin pining for Soviet glory days, the last "Soviet" republic is a prime target for Russian territorial ambitions:

Many have asked: if Russia could take Crimea, then why not Belarus? Of Belarus’s 10-million strong population, 15% are ethnically Russian. Belarus is far more Russian than Ukraine: the language ubiquitous, the culture almost indistinguishable. Lukashenko said recently that he saw his country as “the most pro-Russian province” – an admission akin to the Austrian chancellor declaring his country to be a loyal subject of Germany – and agreed that Crimea was part of Russia.

Yet he has also come to Kiev’s defence. In the face of prolonged, pro-Russian separatist violence in eastern Ukraine, he has been vocal in saying the country must not be split apart, and pledged his support for the newly elected western-backed Ukrainian president, Petro Poroshenko.

Lukashenko maintains Russians are Belarusians’ best friends, but warned: “No matter who comes to Belarusian land, I will fight. Even if it is Putin.”

Yeah, befriending the bear seemed wise while the bear hibernated. But as the bear wakes up, it's hungry. And Belarus is conveniently close, similar, and flat.

And as a dictatorship, the ruler Lukashenko would have trouble gaining sympathy in the West if the Russians move.

Of course, Russia would advance a long distance west, which would rightly freak out Poland and the Baltic NATO states. Germany might even become worried about the nearness of Russian tanks and the tiny size of Germany's army. And we'd have to think of putting significant ground troops into Poland rather than just equipment, as I've long suggested.