Is Belarus’ statehood really strong and inassailable? Or will the decline of Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s era be the end of the independent Belarus? Such questions have been raised in the article Will Russia Take Over Belarus by Adam Eberhardt, Director of the Polish Centre for Eastern Studies.
The article was published in the Polish newspaper Rzeczpospolita.
The author recalls that Lukashenka did a lot of chest thumping and bought into the idea of strengthening the national identity amid of the annexation of Crimea and the armed conflict in Donbas. According to Eberhardt, his message resulted in the Belarusian language’s greater reach in advertising and the growth in its popularity in the ‘alternative and hipster environment on the edge of mass culture’. However, the authorities still hardly see the threat from the east, or at least they are clueless about how to counteract it, Adam Eberhardt stressed.
In his opinion, the fall in oil prices ‘exposed the Belarusian economy’s poor competitiveness and deepened the foreign trade deficit’. Of course, this is not to say that the Belarusian economy is collapsing, but it is a sign of a systemic crisis, which led to Russia’s becoming a dream workplace for the Belarusians.
“When one talks to Belarusians, especially those outside the capital, one may be shocked by their being focused on individual survival strategy and almost total indifference to the fate of the country. When asked about their speculative voting in a conceivable referendum on Belarus’ accession to Russia, the overwhelming majority of residents of Vitsebsk, Baranavichy and Lida go with the elimination of the Belarusian state, because it may improve their standard of living,” Eberhardt stressed.
The Polish political scientist is also offering his insights on the subject of the political expediency Russia’s possible annexation of Belarus.
“Weakness usually provokes. The weakness of Belarus, whose independence is perceived by the Russian elite as some historical oddity, is provoking even more. Such a weakness is seducing Vladimir Putin into making its western neighbour, which was turned into a vassal in the strategic dimension, even more dependent. But the economic autonomy of this ‘vassal’, the inability to repay debts and stubborn refusal to deepen integration within the Union State and the Eurasian Union, is irritating them,” the Polish expert said.
Speaking about the activity of the ‘Russian world’ vocal supporters, Eberhardt warns that pro-Russian groups backed by Kremlin mass media may become a key element in staging a coup amid ‘weakening of Lukashenka’s rule’ or ‘instability’.
“We should remember that the appearance of green men in the Belarusian streets would not have caused mass resistance. Moreover, when the going gets rough, the Belarusian partocracy, not to mention the army and the security services – their pro-Russian sentiment is well-known – will replace a portrait of Lukashenka with that of Putin in their offices. The annexation of Belarus is a very tempting scenario for Putin. And, paradoxically, from year to year of the Belarusian independence, this scenario is becoming more likely,” Adam Eberhardt stated.