Staunton, VA, February 6, 2017 – Two experts at the Minsk Center for Strategic and International Research say that Vladimir Putin may use the current policy disarray in Washington to launch an attack on Belarus, one that could range from a “hybrid” one to the open use of massive military force.
In an interview with Radio Liberty’s Kseniya Kirillova, Arseniy Savitsky, the director of that center, and Yury Tsarik, head of the Russian studies program there, say that confusion in Washington and Donald Trump’s focus on other issues may open the way for Putin to make Belarus his next foreign target.
At the same time, the two say, many in Moscow believe that the price Donald Trump may require Russia to pay will exceed Moscow’s willingness or even ability to do so and that Russia should take advantage of the current confusion about how much the US will now support NATO or how far a US-Russian rapprochement will go to press its advantages in the region.
If such people gain the upper hand or if Putin concludes that he can win a quick victory and boost his standing at home, then Moscow will likely launch a “hybrid” war against Belarus in the near future, a war in which Moscow has some advantages but one, the two experts suggest, it has less than a 50 percent chance of success.
If Moscow did succeed, Belarus would become a place d’ armes for further Russian military moves against Ukraine, Poland, Lithuania and Latvia; and if NATO tried to block that, Sivitsky says, “Moscow could use tactical nuclear weapons in the region,” a possibility that was considered at recent war games in Warsaw.
(On those games and that possibility, see my essay, “Are Moscow and the West Swapping Positions on Belarus?” Jamestown EDM, January 31, 2017.)
Moscow’s efforts to promote a hybrid war are unlikely to succeed and even its open use of massive military force there might not produce the outcome it wants because there would not only be resistance from Minsk and the Belarusian people but also from cooperation with Ukraine, Poland and possibly others as well.
“Therefore,” Savitsky says, “Moscow’s chances for a repetition of the Crimean or Donbass scenario in military terms are very low,” especially because Belarus has been paying attention to what Moscow has done in Ukraine and is taking steps at home to be ready to oppose similar things on its own territory.
Nonetheless, Tsarik says, there are numerous signs of Russian activity inside Belarus that show Moscow plans to apply the scenario it did in Ukraine, including disordering the elite and penetrating various social and political organizations, including false flag financing of supposedly nationalist groups to set the stage for provocations Moscow can try to exploit.