Moscow continues to promote the idea of the inevitability of the annexation of Belarus in the future hinting that it is not a big deal. What does the Kremlin have for it, and what does it lack? Hanna Rusinava, a Belsat TV reporter in Vilnius, interviewed Oleksiy Makukhin, Director of the analytical group on hybrid aggression at the Ukrainian Crisis Media Centre.
The Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO) has published the analytical work referring to the feasible Crimean scenario in Belarus-Russia relations, i.e. another hybrid threat to a sovereign state. Why do they talk about it so openly? Are they no longer afraid of anything?
As far back as 2005 Vladimir Putin said that the disintegration of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the XXth century. And these words are part of the Kremlin’s official vision on how to restore the Soviet Union within its borders. Similar things are stated by top officials and Putin’s advisers. Such discourse has been present for a long time, it is part of the ‘Russian World’, and all the states of the former Soviet Union are still at risk, as Russia considers them legitimate area of its interests. Among all these countries, Belarus is the closest ally, and it is perceived by the Kremlin as an extension of its territory.
The Crimean scenario provides for Russia’s military presence. In Crimea, there were tens of thousands of troops, but there are hardly Russian servicemen in Belarus. Is annexation possible in these circumstances?
‘Hardly’ is a key word here. In Crimea, there was a small Russian base, but even a small Russian base is like a foot wedged in the doorway: then it works the way for the whole body. The availability of the base allows the uncontrolled delivery of weapons and troops. Moreover, there is practically no border between Belarus and Russia. If we compare the situation to that of Crimea and perceive the scenario as a developed one, all Russia needs is a pretext. The presence of the base allows Russia to bring a large number of soldiers across the border and call them not military, but persons sympathetic to the idea of the annexation of Belarus. Then they may act under the Crimean scenario.
Do Moscow analysts take into account the possibility that the Belarusian military and citizens will be defending their independence? According to many polls, Belarusian citizens are ready to protect their country.
Of course, they do. Hybrid attacks are based on the fact that they occur not only in the military, but also economic, informational, political fields. They will use those people who may support their ideas and destabilize the situation by strengthening the group who want to unite with Russia and staging domestic protests. Then they may call the development a civil war and, having such a pretext, take a decision to send troops or engage proxies in Belarus.
What international response might be caused by the annexation of Belarus?
The recent case is their annexation of Crimea, so we can expect a similar reaction. There is a separate package of sanctions directly for Crimea, and there are some for failures to comply with the Minsk agreements. I think there would be some sanction reactions, not a military response.
Is the MGIMO report an analytical instrument or an element of a hybrid war, a fake aimed at intimidating Belarusians?
In my opinion, it is an analytical document in its essence. There is no doubt that thousands of reports are made every year in the Moscow State Institute of International Relations – as in any other large institution. But the fact that we are discussing it now, and it remains in the media spacee is indicatiove of a certain information operation. Thus, the idea is becoming ‘normal’, we are discuss it as one of the options for the future.