Tuesday, March 21, 2017

At the Knife's Edge of History

I have no idea if Russia is actively plotting to take over Belarus. But if Russia does that, the Cold War is on again in earnest. Must Putin's Russia expand or die?

Is Russia actively trying to reabsorb Belarus?

Tensions between Belarus and Russia have been mounting over the past months, as the Kremlin puts more and more pressure on Minsk. The nature of this pressure is perfectly encapsulated by the so-called Gerasimov Doctrine of hybrid warfare. According to the doctrine, Belarus and Russia have entered the 'pre-crisis' stage of conflict.

One, I'm not on board the whole "hybrid warfare" school. As far as I can tell, Russian hybrid warfare consists of committing aggression against a target while denying they are doing anything aggressive--which the West then bizarrely goes along with.

"Hybrid warfare" stops being useful to Russia the minute the West calls what Russia is doing aggression and reacts like it wants to stop the aggression.

Two, Putin has made no secret that he considers the loss of the Soviet (and Russian) empire a great catastrophe. So whether or not Belarus is in the "to do" list right now, Belarus has reason to worry about Russian intentions.

Europe cannot ignore this conflict as they did Georgia and as they have mostly tried to do over Ukraine. Belarus is the most important territory in Europe and if under Russian control a seriously tense Cold War 2.0 starts right at that moment.

Of course, Russia has their own problems. On the 100th anniversary of the Soviet revolution, Putin regrets the fall of the Soviet Union, so is nostalgic for it. But the revolution is a touchy subject, really:

Following mass anti-Kremlin rallies in 2011-12 and the ouster of the Russian-backed leader of Ukraine by protesters in 2014, authorities have been increasingly wary of any popular revolt that could impact their grip on power.

And some analysts say the main aim of the authorities now is to use discussions of 1917 to warn against any uprisings.

"The centenary of the revolution will allow the Kremlin to immunise Russians against any form of revolts," sociologist Lev Gudkov, the head of the Levada Centre independent pollster, told AFP.

Putin has to worry that celebrating that occasion highlights that Russians could overthrow autocrats (in 1917), democrats (also in 1917), and communists who were much tougher and ruthless fellows (in 1991).

Putin is an autocrat banking on foreign policy success to sustain his popularity. He has formed a personally loyal military just in case he needs to win a foreign war to stifle dissent or to suppress dissent that escalates to threaten his power.

Will the centennial observation immunize Putin against revolt or remind long-suffering Russians that they are not helpless in the face of a government that cares little for their welfare?

Because who knows? Is the rump Russian empire still done fragmenting?

But with all these questions and potential problems revolving around the fate of Belarus, we have this accusation from the Belarus leader:

President Alexander Lukashenko says Monday that "Western funds under the direction of Western security services" are trying to "inflame the situation in Belarus," the state news agency Belta reported.

Oh good Lord. Is Lukashenko seriously giving Putin all the excuse he needs to invade Belarus?

Yeah, my pucker factor just reached 11 or so.

Have a super sparkly day.

UPDATE: Lukashenko has put a big "invade me" sign on his back:

Belarus' president said Tuesday that about 20 militants have been arrested for seeking to fuel unrest in the ex-Soviet nation, a statement that comes amid mounting social protests.

Alexander Lukashenko said the militants were preparing an "armed provocation," adding that they had undergone training in neighboring Ukraine and received money from EU members Poland and Lithuania.

"There are people who want to destabilize the situation in the country," he said. "They need to raise a mutiny. Their dream is to destroy the government and oust the president."

And conveniently for Russia, Lukashenko gave Russia reason to target Poland and Lithuania as well as justify ongoing aggression against Ukraine.

Seriously, has Lukashenko decided he'd rather survive as a provincial governor of Russia under Putin?

So yeah, holding steady at 11.

UPDATE: These protesters do realize that if they succeed in driving Lukashenko from power that Russia will declare it a Western "color revolution" and invade Belarus, right?

The half-million Belarusians who can't find work in their country's stumbling Soviet-style economy face an array of hard choices: register with the state employment exchange, which will force them to take "public work" for a pittance; pay $250 for failure to register; or risk being jailed for taking part in a wave of protests against the labor law. ...

The initial protests focused on the labor law but have grown to encompass calls for the resignation of President Alexander Lukashenko, whom critics call Europe's last dictator.

If Lukashenko falls, Lukashenko will simply become the last Belarusian dictator of Belarus. Putin will send in his National Guard for an Anschluss with Belarus.

And Putin's National Guard is authorized by law to shoot civilians, recall:

Remember, such a law will also allow Putin's new personal army to fire at new Russians brought into Holy Mother Russia by conquest and rapid annexation.

Russia got lucky in Crimea, where resistance never took off to the conquest and annexation. But in Estonia, Latvia, or Lithuania (or even Belarus), it might be another situation altogether with many new "Russian" citizens unhappy enough about their fate willing to resist conquest by Putin's personal army.

I know that the consensus seems to be that Russia wants to be ready for unrest should the economy go further south.

But I also remember that the best way to hide your intentions isn't to throw up a wall that hides everything you are doing. There is simply no way to hide everything. And we do see the formation of a new army.

No, the best way to hide your intentions is to get your enemies to believe another plausible reason for what they see. And in this case, the plausible reason for seeing Putin create a personally loyal army is to be prepared for unrest in his own people.

I put nothing past Putin. Will he ignore this opportunity to restore another portion of the empire?