The “Battle For Belarus”
Belarus has recently emerged as the latest front in the New Cold War‘s sub-rivalry between Russia and the West, which the author analyzed at length in his piece last month about how “Belarus Is Doing America’s Bidding By Blaming Russia For Its Color Revolution Unrest“. In the two weeks since the publication of that analysis, Minsk arrested 33 Russians that it claimed were part of a secret operation to destabilize the former Soviet Republic ahead of its presidential election next week. Although that specific provocation couldn’t have been predicted, the very fact that something of the sort transpired wasn’t unexpected considering the general trend of Belarusian state hostility towards Russia that the author elaborated upon in his work and has been closely following for the past half-decade.
The “Three Seas Initiative”
There’s little doubt that Lukashenko will win re-election, and it appears increasingly likely that the latest provocation will be exploited as the “publicly plausible” pretext for accelerating his pro-Western pivot in the aftermath of the vote. He isn’t doing this in a geopolitical vacuum since Poland has made great strides in increasing its attractiveness to Belarus by presenting itself as a credible American-backed counterweight to Russia in recent years. It’s primarily done this through the “Three Seas Initiative” (TSI) that it leads, which is envisioned to function as the fulfillment of interwar leader Pilsudski’s “Intermarium”. That project refers to his goal of creating a network of allied states between Germany and the then-USSR whose geostrategic whole would be greater than the sum of their parts, thus establishing a new Polish-led pole of power in Europe.
The Modern-Day “Intermarium”
The US supports the TSI because it regards this project as the perfect pro-American wedge between those two Great Powers, especially considering their recent energy-driven rapprochement through Nord Stream II. The many smaller- and medium-sized states between them in the Central & Eastern European space have historical suspicions of German and Russian intentions, thus compelling their governments to naturally seek out a “balancing” force from abroad. Their societies are also preconditioned by history and the US’ dominant control over the Mainstream Media narrative to approve of America assuming this role for itself since they’ve been led to believe that it’s in their shared interests for it to do so. Over the past month, three interconnected developments improved the TSI’s attractiveness to Belarus in the current competitive context.
Three Steps Towards The Three Seas
Firstly, President Duda — one of Trump’s most loyal allies anywhere in the world and a proud Polish nationalist — narrowly won re-election in an extremely close vote that the author analyzed in his piece about how “Poland’s Future Remains Bright, But Its Glow Is Dimming“. This ensured that the ruling EuroRealists will continue with their US-backed TSI plans instead of “compromising” on them to please Germany like the Berlin-controlled “opposition” would have probably done. Secondly, Poland established the so-called “Lublin Triangle” platform for regional cooperation between itself, Lithuania, and Ukraine that de-facto aims to revive the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth as the core of the TSI. Not coincidentally, Belarus discussed “regional initiatives” with Poland days after its establishment. Finally, Trump committed to deploy 1,000 more troops to Poland.
Altogether, it becomes clear that Poland’s ambitions to restore its long-lost Great Power status received a fresh impetus precisely at the time when Belarus is looking for a means to “balance” Russia. President Duda’s second term will likely see his conservative-nationalist party flex their country’s regional muscles, as evidenced by the establishment of the Lublin Triangle that’s symbolically named after the 1569 Union of Lublin that created the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The dispatch of 1,000 more US troops to Poland in parallel with the withdrawal of 12,000 from Germany sends the strong signal that the US regards Warsaw as more important of a partner for its 21st-century goals in Europe than Berlin, which reinforces the overall importance of Belarus nowadays since it’s on the periphery of the US-backed TSI and used to be part of the Polish realm.
Is A Belarusian CEPA In The Cards?
Accepting that the Lublin Triangle is the core of the TSI and aims to revive Poland’s sphere of influence over the lands of its former Commonwealth prior to expanding its reach all across the Central & Eastern sphere in full alignment with American geostrategic objectives vis-a-vis Russia, then it naturally follows that Belarus would be the perfect case study for proving the viability of these plans. The Polish-American alliance wants to “poach” the former Soviet Republic from Russia’s sphere of influence after the election by encouraging it to enter into a so-called “Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement” (CEPA) with the EU just like the one that its fellow Eurasian Union member Armenia reached a few years ago, knowing that this would probably provoke Russia to impose emergency restrictions to protect its economy and thus create yet another wedge to exploit.
Ruining The Eurasian Union
There’s practically no border between Russia and Belarus due to their shared membership in the “Union State” so Moscow would be compelled to protect its businesses from being swamped by an influx of EU goods entering the country via Minsk through a prospective CEPA. That scenario never happened with Armenia since the tiny landlocked country doesn’t abut any EU members, let alone the largest economy in Central & Eastern Europe, Poland, but Belarus is in an altogether different position. The strategy seems to be to have Lukashenko comprehensively strengthen his country’s relations with the West, first and foremost economic and with US-backed Poland as Belarus’ primary partner in that direction, so as to prompt Russia to react according to the escalation ladder that they predict it’ll climb. This in turn could then be exploited to serve as a pretext for Belarus either leaving the Eurasian Union on its own prerogative or Russia de-facto suspending its membership.
From the Belarusian perspective, this is an extremely risky strategy to undertake since it’s bound to cause immeasurable hardships for its people whose livelihoods are largely connected to Russia whether directly or indirectly, but Lukashenko might seek emergency Western economic aid in parallel with accelerating the privatization of his country’s economy together with improved EU market access via a prospective CEPA to mitigate some of the effects. Still, it would more than likely be a shock for the Belarusian economy similar in effect to the one that Russia experienced in the 1990s, though its his government’s goal to do all that they can to ensure that it isn’t anywhere near as painful nor lasts as long as that one did. Again, this is very risky and there’s no objective reason why Belarus has to do this. It is solely Lukashenko’s personal choice.
In the event that he goes through with this dramatic pivot, he’ll probably seek to sell it to his population on the basis that Russia has not only “mistreated” his compatriots by “not regarding them as equals” and “pressuring” them to “sacrifice their sovereignty” for the sake of the “Russian-led Union State”, but has actively sought to “meddle” in their domestic affairs through the fake news mercenary scandal at the risk of turning Belarus into “one big Donbas”. This negative narrative could be contrasted with the “positive” one that’s being manufactured about Poland having the “political will” to “stand up to Russia” in “meaningful ways”, which makes it Belarus’ “natural partner” since they share the same grand strategic interests and also have a common history with one another and their other two shared Lithuanian and Ukrainian neighbors of the Lublin Triangle.
The Montenegrin Model
Those Belarusians who actively oppose their government’s pro-American/-Polish pivot against Russia by peacefully protesting and/or publicly expressing their dissent through other means such as social media and the like could very well be accused of being “Russian/GRU agents” and dealt with in the harshest ways possible. It doesn’t matter that those accusations wouldn’t be true since all that’s important for Lukashenko to do is play the “Russian card” in order to “legitimize” an anti-democratic crackdown against dissidents. Lukashenko was once ignobly derided as the “last dictator of Europe” by some of those same Western countries that are now courting him, but just like they accepted Montenegro’s similarly dictatorial Djukanovic who also staged his own anti-Russian provocations, so too will they accept him since he’s following the same model.
The “Battle for Belarus” doesn’t look good for Russia since it seems like Lukahsneko already made his choice to pivot away from his people’s fraternal neighbor in favor of the one that previously occupied them for centuries. He wouldn’t have felt as comfortable doing this had it not been for the recent establishment of the Lublin Triangle which serves as the integrational core of the Polish-led and US-backed TSI that’s being presented as a credible means for his country to “balance” Russia’s Eurasian Union. As with all decisive pivots in history, Belarus is bound to experience a lot of blowback if it goes through with this sometime after next week’s election and isn’t just attempting to play its traditional Russian patron off against its prospective Polish one for self-interested gain. Yanukovich thought he could do the same thing, yet it didn’t end good for him at all.
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This article was originally published on OneWorld.
Andrew Korybko is an American Moscow-based political analyst specializing in the relationship between the US strategy in Afro-Eurasia, China’s One Belt One Road global vision of New Silk Road connectivity, and Hybrid Warfare. He is a frequent contributor to Global Research.
Featured image is from OneWorld