Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Putin has as Much to Fear in Belarusian Protests as Lukashenka Does, Portnikov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 21 – Because the money is running out and because Russia can no longer make up the difference, Alyaksandr Lukashenka faces a situation he neither expected nor knows how to respond to, one in which not the nationalists but his own electorate has turned against him, Vitaly Portnikov says.

            What the Minsk dictator will do next is “unknown,” the Ukrainian commentator says, adding the critical observation that everyone should be watching what happens in Lukashenka’s country not only for its own sake but because of what it says about what may happen in Vladimir Putin’s Russia (7days.us/vitalij-portnikov-marsh-razdrazhennyx-i-budushhee-belarusi-i-rossii/).

            “In Russia,” as in Belarus, “the government’s resources are also approaching exhaustion – and social protests are not far distant,” Portnikov says.  And thus, “Putin also will have to react to protests from his own electorate and not in Moscow” but in the Russian Federation’s far-flung regions and republics.

            For Putin, he argues, “this will be much more terrible” and terrifying that protests however large in Moscow’s public squares.

            Thus, “if Lukashenka collapses, Putin will collapse as well because Russia is similar to Belarus from the political point of view and not the reverse. Moscow learned from Minsk nostalgia for things Soviet and for authoritarianism” as such.  Indeed, for Putin, Belarus like Tatarstan and Chechnya earlier is a testing ground.

            Consequently, “if Lukashenka is able to find a model for survival in poverty – from repression to playing with the opposition,” Portnikov suggests, “Putin almost certainly will use this approach to save himself.” That makes the protests across Belarus far more important than many now see them.

Minsk Said Preparing to Disperse Protesters by Force

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 21 – Nikolay Kozlov, a retired Belarusian interior ministry lieutenant colonel and deputy head of the independent United Civic Party, says that all indications are that the Belarusian internal troops are preparing to use force to disperse protesters against Alyaksandr Lukashenka if the latter decides such a step is necessary to save his position.

            Kozlov told the BelarusPartisan portal that “recently much has been said about the need to reduce the size of the interior ministry but I have never heard that these reductions would affect the internal troops ... these internal forces were created and exist in general to suppress disorders within the country” (belaruspartisan.org/politic/371670/).

            Could Lukashenka give the order to these forces to suppress those now protesting? Kozlov asks rhetorically. In his view, he says, the answer is “yes.” But “it is another question that now the authorities are somewhat constrained by the complicated economic situation, the relative improvement in relations with Europe and at the same time the conflict with Russia.”

            Nonetheless, he continues, “if thousands of people come out into the squares with a protest against new taxes, unemployment and so on, then,” Kozlov said, he is “certain that the powers that be will defend themselves.  As soon as they sense a concrete threat to themselves, they will immediately call on the internal forces for help.”

            Kozlov’s words came in response to a question from BelarusPartisan following a recent declaration by Major General Yury Karayev, the deputy interior minister of Belarus, who said at the last collegium meeting of his ministry that the internal forces needed new technology and arms.

            In addition, Karayev said that “today it is necessary to react in a timely fashion to existing challenges and threats and for this,” he added, “it is necessary to develop and support special assignment units,” the kind that most likely would be employed against any domestic disturbances.

            What makes this ominous, the portal suggested is at immediately after the Maidan in Ukraine, Aleksandr Mezhuyev, then head of the Belarusian Security Council, said much the same thing: “a Maidan is close, the times are complicated, and one must not economize on internal forces.”

            Such statements by Belarusian officials are no more than one might expect, simultaneously designed to extract more resources for the security services from Lukashenka and to remind those protesting that the authorities have the ability to move with dispatch if they choose to.

            Moreover, the interpretation offered by the former MVD officer suggests that Lukashenka will try to hold off as long as possible, clearly aware that any such use of force would cost him his relations with the West and create an unpredictable situation that the opposition and/or Moscow could use against him.