Doctor of Political Sciences Pavel Usov analyzes the Russian-Ukrainian war and its consequences for the post-Soviet space in an interview with Belarusian Partisan.
— Ukraine expects the Belarusian authorities to condemn the Russian occupation of Crimea. Will Belarus do it?
— It seems to me that Ukrainian authorities don’t expect statements of this kind from Belarus. Kyiv understands Lukashenko and his stance. In turn, the Belarusian ruling elite does not even think of condemning Russia. What the country is really able to do is to merely call for a peaceful resolution of the conflict. In practice, it is ready to give Russia territory for further aggression against Ukraine. In other words, Belarus will silently support the aggression of the Russian Federation and acquiesce in the occupation of Crimea.
— Armenia and Kazakhstan have already recognized Crimea as the Russian territory. Lukashenko’s not done it directly although he didn’t call this occupation. What prevents him from doing it?
— Kyrgyzstan has also recognized the referendum. As for Belarus, as I said, Lukashenko showed his loyalty to the Kremlin in practice by allowing to station additional Russian aircraft at the airbase in Belarus. Of course, he may interpret this step as an action in self-defense. But given the armed conflict between Russia and Ukraine such self-defense is unequivocal. Moreover, Belarusian generals are unlikely to be able to control or limit the actions of the Russian military.
However, Minsk does not want to worsen relations with Ukraine, which is Belarus’ third most important economic partner. By taking a very cautious diplomatic stance on the situation in Ukraine Belarus hopes for at least a minimal improvement in relations with the West. Unfortunately, Western politicians are more inclined to respond to nice and pleasant words or at least a pleasant silence rather than real actions. As a result, the Belarusian regime indulges the West and Ukraine verbally, but in practice it is faithful to Moscow. So, everyone is happy.
— There is an opinion that sooner or later Lukashenko will recognize Crimea as Russian territory. The only obstacle is the price of this recognition. What price does the official Minsk want?
— The recognition of the annexation of Crimea is not fundamental for the Kremlin in the current circumstances. In 2008 Belarus’ position on Georgia was incomparably more important than in Crimea today, primarily because of certain ideological nuances.
In the war with Georgia Russia seized other state’s territory and created new states. Its position in the international arena was significantly weaker, so it needed allies. That is why we could see an angry response to Lukashenko’s behavior in 2008. In 2014, events unfolded according to a different scenario. Russia, in accordance with its ideological approach, takes the lands it once lost. It does not proclaim a new “independent” republic for which external recognition would be important. It simply annexes the territory and the question of recognition or non-recognition does not matter in this case. Neither is the opinion of the international community. The question of non-recognition of Russia within the 2014 borders can only be raised.
If Russia insists that Belarus should formally recognize the annexation, it will do this without any preconditions, as the country and the regime is not in a position to impose any conditions. It’s obvious to everyone that the “new dialogue” with the West will not be able to pull Belarus out of the geopolitical trap or save from Moscow’s pressure. Therefore, various diplomatic pirouettes of the official Minsk is only an illusion of an independent position, which Belarus does not actually have.
— Ukraine signed the political part of the Association Agreement with the EU. Is this a guarantee that Russia will not invade the south-east of Ukraine? Because now Ukraine is de facto part of the European Union which should defend their territory?
— Association Agreement gives no guarantees of Ukraine’s safety. Ukraine has not become part of the European Union. And the EU will of course not defend Ukraine from Russia’s further expansion should it happen. They will not do it for one simple reason. They have no resources to protect Ukraine. Europe does not especially want to protect Ukraine either.
It has been repeatedly stated that, according to the Budapest Memorandum, the UK and the USA are guarantors of Ukraine’s independence and security.
We can see the “result” of these commitments. Russia showed the whole world that no treaties, obligations, agreements, promises or assurances will stop it. Strength can be countered only by strength and will. Without it, Europe will not be able to defend itself, let alone Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, etc. Everything that Europe is capable of doing today is to impose absurd sanctions that disgrace the West more than frighten Russia. If the EU or the USA had been able to respond to Russia’s aggression, they would have done it at a time when the Kremlin’s puppets in Simferopol mentioned the possibility of holding a referendum. Today Ukraine can and should rely only on itself, on its people, and prepare for a tough confrontation with Russia, otherwise the latter will tear Ukraine into pieces under the murmur of spineless Europe.
— The geopolitical map of the region is changing before our eyes. Armenia and Kazakhstan, under pressure from the Kremlin, were forced to recognize the occupation of Crimea, but this does not mean that the Armenians and the Kazakhs have started loving Putin’s Russia more. Without Ukraine, Putin’s dream to become the gatherer of the Russian lands will be shattered. What fate awaits many post-Soviet entities: the CIS, the Collective Security Treaty Organization, the Customs Union, the Union State, and the Eurasian Economic Union which is going to be launched from 2015?
–Countries such as Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Belarus are politically and economically dependent on Russia. Russia is not only a market and resource and financial donor to weak economies. It is also a factor of stability of political regimes and guarantor of security in the face of external threats. In addition, Russia successfully uses ethnic conflicts in order to promote its interests and will probably use them actively to destabilize those states that may show disloyalty, as, for example, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Moldova.
But the problem is that most of the post-Soviet states are poor and undeveloped. Russia’s strength is based on this. It would hardly be able to get rich and stable states involved in its venturesome projects. The situation in Crimea showed that people still associate integration with Russia with wealth and high salaries and that a return to the second edition of the USSR will instantly solve all problems. However, we all see how hard rich European Union is modernizing and reforming the old model of the economies of Eastern Europe. I don’t think that Russia, which was unable to reform its own economy, will contribute to the development of the newly returned colonies. Russia can dominate can only hold power. So, of course, it will seek to further implement integration projects, primarily the Eurasian Union, which will be mainly based on political coercion rather than economic viability.
And I am confident that Moscow will continue to destabilize the situation in Ukraine using not only ethno-linguistic peculiarities of the country but also profound political contradictions in the new elite. Internal disagreements and weakness of Ukrainian politicians will help Russia continue its expansion in the region.
— Sooner or later the re-division of the world and the establishment of Russian order in the region will finish. Will Belarus be able to remain an independent state?
— Re-divisions of the world usually end in global wars. It’s difficult to predict how the process launched by Moscow will end, although historical analogies may help us find a possible answer. There are three scenarios of further developments.
The first (the most pessimistic) scenario is the third world war. Empires live until they expand, and we can assume that most likely Russia will not stop in Crimea. Its further expansion may provoke an armed conflict and in this case no one will be interested in the fate of Belarus.
The second scenario is less pessimistic. It involves the restoration of the Soviet empire based on Belarus, the south-eastern part of Ukraine, a part of Moldova, the Caucasian republics and the Central Asian states. The viability of such an empire, which will absorb not at all wealthy areas, is very small given constant pressure from the West. So it will not live longer that Putin himself. After that the Eurasian space will collapse again. For Belarus as a country it will not be hard to survive during this period (in the scope of its own history) but this will be a tragedy for society. This will mean decades of marking time and striving for something we don’t need in a particular “empire.” This will be followed by a painful period of transformation and a period of cultural revival.
And finally, an optimistic scenario. In the next 3 – 5 years Russia’s imperial policy will finally undermine its economy, which will lead to a social and political crisis. This will mean the collapse of the present-day integration projects and pose a threat to Russia’s integrity.