Staunton, March 25 – Alyaksandr Lukashenka, the Belarusian dictator and Vladimir Putin’s closest ally on the post-Soviet space, concedes that Crimea “de facto” is part of Russia but is taking a hard line against the Kremlin leader’s demands that Ukraine be federalized. Such a step, Lukashenka says, could be extremely dangerous.
“Ukraine,” the Minsk leader said, “must remain a single country, indivisible and outside of any bloc. If tomorrow, NATO were to appear in Ukraine, this would be for us categorically unacceptable.” But federalization, for which Putin has pushed so hard, could open the way for exactly that.
“Federation is very dangerous for a state,” the Belarusian dictator said. “This is war, this can lead to further conflict and fighting.” That is because, he continued, “federation is a ‘little piano’ on which can play on the one hand one set of forces and on the other, other forces, including external ones.”
“This always destabilizes the situation. Forever!” Lukashenka said.
He added that “we have defined and expressed our own point of view. No one required from us that we recognize and support the Russians or the reverse.” And he said that the Ukrainian authorities had committed “a multitude of errors which led in the end to the loss of Crimea.”
Among those errors, he said, was Kyiv’s position on the language issue. Moscow saw “what was being done” and thus intervened.
With regard to the West, Lukashenka said that “the West is afraid to introduce serious sanctions on Russia for its policy in Ukraine.” Today, the West is “a profanation” consisting of people who are incapable” of doing anything serious.
Russian President Putin will likely be pleased that Lukashenka is recognizing Crimea as part of Russia, although he and others will note that the Belarusian leader spoke only of it being “de facto” rather than “de jure,” a distinction that gives Minsk room to maneuver, something that may be important in the future.
But Lukashenka’s words about the federalization of Ukraine will be far less pleasing to the Kremlin. However, they may be even more important. On the one hand, Lukashenka appears to recognize as Putin does not that a federalized Ukraine might quickly dissolve into two parts, one that Moscow would dominate but another that would integrate into the West.
And on the other, the Belarusian dictator understands that federalization can gain content even in the most authoritarian regimes and ultimately, because it is based on the division of power between the center and the periphery weaken the former and encourage the latter to ever more independent action.
It is disturbing that most coverage of Lukashenka has focused only on his recognition of the Russian Anschluss rather than on his words about federalization, not only because this reflects a tendency to view the Minsk leader as nothing more than a mouthpiece for Moscow but also because it means the West is not exploring the ways Belarus might be used to counter Russian actions.