A Russian-Belarusian Rapprochement?
Some notable developments occurred since the author’s analysis on Friday about how “Belarus’ ‘Democratic Security’ Operation Shouldn’t Be Exploited For Russophobic Purposes“. That piece painted a bleak picture of Russian-Belarusian relations, one in which Russia’s hosting of Belarusian opposition leader Tsepkalo could have potentially been instrumentalized to protect its national security interests. That’s no longer the case, however, since recent events have changed that calculation. Some observers are nowadays a bit more optimistic about their ties, even believing that they might soon return to their formerly fraternal level, though the fact of the matter is that Minsk simply doesn’t have any realistic option other than to re-engage Moscow (albeit on the latter’s terms) after the dramatic failure of the former’s “balancing” act and is thus destined to be Russia’s “little brother” instead of its “equal brother”.
A casual observer might be inclined to think that Belarus once again wants to return to its former brotherly relations with Russia, but the situation isn’t as simple as that. After all, Lukashenko declared earlier this month that “it is impossible” to strengthen his country’s “Union State” relations with Russia. “Even if I agreed to the reunification on the most favorable terms for Belarus, the people of Belarus would not accept it. The nation is not ready for this and will never be. The people are overripe. It was possible 20 or 25 years ago when the Soviet Union collapsed. But not now.” Nevertheless, he also said on Sunday that “Belarus does not want to be a ‘buffer zone’…to separate Russia from the West”, which essentially rules out its participation in the Polish-led and US-backed “Three Seas Initiative” (TSI) and related frameworks like the “Lublin Triangle“, at least for now. Put another way, Belarus wants closer relations with Russia, but not formal incorporation into a single state. While it wishes to retain friendly relations with the West, it won’t do so at the expense of Russia either.
The Belarusian Crisis is still very serious, though the positive developments of the past two days in respect to bilateral relations with Russia inspire cautious optimism about the future. If Lukashenko can survive the Hybrid War against him, which he’d more than likely have to do on his own without any Russian military support considering the fact that foreign military forces are ineffective in dealing with most manifestations of such wars, then there’s a high chance that Belarus will agree to strengthen its integration with Russia through the “Union State” framework on Moscow’s terms. Lukashenko can still “save face” by claiming that he restored his country’s “brotherhood” with Russia, though that would only be half-true since no true “brotherhood” would exist (or ever has) since what’s really in force is a “fraternal hierarchy”. In any case, Lukashenko seems to have finally learned his lesson about “balancing”, but it’ll remain to be seen whether he learned it too late.Russian-Belarusian Relations: Back to Being Brothers? Crimea 2.0 Is Unlikely