Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Anatomy of Coup Attempt in Belarus

By Melkulangara Bhadrakumar - September 01, 2020 at 03:51PM

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The Russian President Vladimir Putin disclosed in a TV interview on August 27 that the Americans, amongst others, had fuelled the unrest in Belarus. He explained that the controversial presence of 33 Russian nationals (with military background) in Minsk in the run-up to the presidential election in Belarus on August 8, which briefly created misunderstanding between Minsk and with Moscow, was itself was a joint operation by Ukrainian and US intelligence agencies. 

The Russian nationals were apparently given job offers and were “simply lured there (Minsk), dragged across the border … de facto they were brought in on fake documents.” Evidently, Russia is in possession of hard intelligence. 

Putin spoke up even as US Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun wrapped up talks with top Russian officials in Moscow Wednesday. According to a VOA report, Biegun’s consultations “marked an intensifying US effort to find a peaceful solution in Belarus.” The report took note that en route to Moscow, Biegun had “signalled that Washington was not eager to accept efforts by [Belarus President Alexander] Lukashenko to cast the election standoff as an East versus West showdown that might trigger direct Russian involvement.” 

Simply put, Biegun was on a “damage control” mission. This can be taken as admission of defeat in the US-backed regime change project in Belarus. Conceivably, Russian officials shared with Biegun their intelligence regarding the CIA involvement. Later, crisply anodyne identical readouts were released by the Russian and American sides without divulging any details. 

The CIA would roll back its Belarus operation — for the time being, at least. A commentary titled What’s Next for the Peaceful Uprising in Belarus? by the United States Institute of Peace sees “potential to bring change” in Belarus, but concludes saying, “While there are no guarantees of success, there is cause for hope. At a minimum, Belarusians have gained a new-found sense of dignity and belief in the power of nonviolent collective action.” 

This appears to have been a well-planned operation. Under the garb of journalists, western intelligence deployed dozens of special agents in Belarus. Lukashenko has ordered their expulsion. Associated Press, Radio Liberty and BBC “reporters” have had their accreditation cancelled. A Swedish “photo journalist”, presumably an intelligence operative, was detained and was released at the personal intervention of the Swedish ambassador to Belarus and flown out of Minsk.

From the pro forma reaction by the European Union so far, Brussels has a fair idea of what really happened — that there has been a US operation with active participation of Poland and Lithuania (both EU countries) and Ukraine. Unsurprisingly, NATO statements have been rather combative. The NATO also began air exercises in Poland and Lithuania coinciding with the unrest in Belarus. 

However, major European powers — Germany, France, Italy — didn’t want to get entangled. Their top leaders telephoned Putin to ease the tensions. The EU initially proposed OSCE as mediator, but Moscow sensed that it might lead to backdoor entry by the US intelligence. The OSCE is manned by NATO powers and is under American thumb.

The clincher has been the stern warning by the Kremlin that if the western operation continued, Russia will be left with no option but to intervene. The warning came at Putin’s level, making it very clear that Russia will not countenance a regime change in Minsk to hijack Belarus into the American camp. Moscow has asserted its special interests in Belarus under international law. In his TV interview on Thursday, Putin emphatically stated: 
Indeed, the Union Treaty… and the Collective Security Treaty (CSTO) include articles saying that all member states of these organisations, including the Union State, which consists of two states only – Russia and Belarus, are obliged to help each other protect their sovereignty, external borders and stability… In this connection, we have certain obligations towards Belarus, and this is how Mr Lukashenko has formulated his question. He said that he would like us to provide assistance to him if this should become necessary. I replied that Russia would honour all its obligations.

Mr Lukashenko has asked me to create a reserve group of law enforcement personnel, and I have done this. But we have also agreed that this group would not be used unless the situation becomes uncontrollable… we came to the conclusion that now it is not necessary, and I hope that it will never be necessary to use this reserve, which is why we are not using it.
Putin made it abundantly clear that Moscow stands by Lukashenko.

The events in Belarus constitute a watershed moment. Russia will not allow another Ukraine-type colour revolution in the “near abroad”, aimed at encircling it with hostile governments. But Moscow’s intervention, if at all, will conform to international law and stem out of invitation by the country concerned. 

That is to say, Russia regards it to be the prerogative of the CSTO countries to handle their internal affairs without outside unlawful interference. Having said that, Moscow has invoked the CSTO’s collective security doctrine. This sets a precedent. The CSTO comprises Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan. A CIA-sponsored regime change project in any of these countries can run into the CSTO’s crosshairs. Considering that the CSTO is de facto led from Moscow, any more regime change project in Central Asia or Caucasus will trigger Russian countermeasures. 

Most important, Moscow will not be prescriptive. Putin has supported Lukashenka’s proposal to draft a new constitution and hold fresh presidential and parliamentary elections, but transition should be lawful and orderly. This Russian approach has been already evident in Kyrgyzstan (2005) Turkmenistan (2006), and Uzbekistan (2016). Even in the case of Georgia (2003) and Ukraine (2004 and 2014), Russia didn’t oppose transitions but the West turned them into geopolitical contestations to install anti-Russian regimes. 

However, a caveat must be added. Putin also underscored that Belarus is a very special case. He said, in a clear reference to the US, “some forces would like to see something different happening there (Belarus). They would like to influence these processes and to bring about the solutions that would suit their political interests.” Russia cannot afford to see such nefarious designs succeed in Belarus.

In Putin’s words, “This nation is very close to us (Russian Federation) and perhaps is the closest, both in terms of ethnic proximity, the language, the culture, the spiritual as well as other aspects. We have dozens or probably hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of direct family ties with Belarus.” Not only that, Russia sources from Belarus almost 90 percent of its imports of agricultural products. 

Reprinted with permission from Indian Punchline.

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