Uladzimir Matskevich: Belarus’ annexation might become a “small victorious war” for Russia

Aliaksei Yurych, EuroBelarus Information Service

Until we get rid of all the ideological garbage in relations between Belarus and Russia, we will have to be careful and vigilant.

Why has Moscow suddenly started accusing Lukashenko of nationalistic policy? What are the aims of the information campaign launched against Belarus? What consequences can the unfolded propaganda against the “sole loyal ally” of Russia lead to?

Uladzimir Matskevich, the head of the Board of the International Consortium “EuroBelarus” answered the questions of the EuroBelarus Information Service.

— Anti-Belarusan hysteria is getting bigger in Russia, and the recent international conference “BeloRussian dialogue” proves that. One of the conclusions drawn by the political scientist Andrey Suzdaltsev, sounds in the following way: “Foreign political course of Belarus in situation of tough confrontation between Russia and the West has undergone irreversible correction: Belarus has clearly been moving away from the union with the Russian Federation; Belarusan media have increased anti-Russian propaganda, and digression from fulfilling allied commitments is ideologically explained.” How valid is such opinion on the current policy of the official Minsk?

— Such opinion can be found quite valid in certain contexts, whereas in others in can seem a complete invention.

We need to understand not only what the press writes about Belarus, but also how people in Russia are used to seeing Belarus.

Very often the conclusions of the analysts come as a shock to them, if a certain situation has been neglected for a long time, when it was treated with prejudice, and when myths were translated. Regarding Belarus, Moscow political establishment has been spreading exclusively myths, prejudice, and what the authorities wanted to see over time. A certain image, the image of Belarus was created, and has been mindlessly broadcasted in mass media for many years. Some Moscow analysts have suddenly “considered” Belarus with more realistic eyes and found that Belarus is still conducting an independent policy. Well, the minimal autonomy of Lukashenko’s regime has suddenly been viewed as a nationalistic policy. Myths are starting to dissolve very fast and analysts panic and rush to come up with new versions. Some thinks tanks voice what can now be heard on Russian marginal publications and online channels (as TV is still busy with the mass propaganda, information war in Russia continues, just as the brainwashing of its own people); thus, Belarus is far from being in the headlines.

Suzdaltsev himself specializes in Belarus. At the time, he was deported from Belarus for anti-Belarusan nature of his publications; at least it was a formal excuse. Was it really anti-Belarusan? In a way it was. Even when working in Belarus in a Belarusan organization, he, nevertheless, acted as a pro-Moscow analyst. Suzdaltsev, who is believed to be one of the main specialists in Belarus in Moscow, who himself favored the creation of myths and prejudice, is now in a quite difficult situation. By and large, he exploited political Moscow's position towards Belarus and diligently supported it. What Suzdaltsev wrote earlier is no longer relevant; so he is looking for a new version, a new image of Belarus, which he could use so that to keep being the main expert on Belarus for the Moscow establishment.

— Another quote from the final communiqué of the conference: “The Belarusan society purposefully and actively spreads the most incredible myths about Russia and the plans of the Russian government to annex Belarus into Russia, thus depriving it of its sovereignty and independence.” Are the “incredible myths” really that incredible? Do we need to take such “games” as a mark of harmless amusement of the Russian nationalists and should we ignore them?

— No special wave has been raised in Belarus: different political groups, different experts write about Moscow's threat to Belarus just as they were; official propaganda makes loud statements about the unbreakable friendship between Russia and Belarus just as it used to; all the failed integration initiatives (and they did obviously fail) are not subject to criticism in the official discourse. What exactly Suzdaltsev has noticed lately is, probably, known only to Suzdaltsev.

The only more or less realistic observation Suzdaltsev made is that Belarus is now responding to some of the statements made by various mostly marginal leaders in Moscow. If Girkin, Limonov, and a number of other nationalist leaders create a Committee “January 25”, one of the objectives of which is the annexation of Belarus, it is but natural that the Belarusan society cannot ignore such statements. But it is a response to what comes from Moscow. Does Suzdaltsev or someone else believe that such phenomena that have become known in Belarus will not receive the appropriate assessment from our side?..

I do not rule out that this situation may seem surprising for Moscow leaders, because they do not allow the thought that Belarus may have its own position, its own view of the political relations between Moscow and Minsk, between Russia and Belarus.

For a long time Suzdaltsev has been guided by the idea that Belarus is a failed state, just as a lot of Moscow analysts and political experts were saying that Ukraine is a failed state. They didn’t use to say it about Belarus, because it was irrelevant then; moreover, Lukashenko’s authoritarian regime looks as quite normal pro-Moscow state — the only true ally of Moscow. When the official Minsk doesn’t support Moscow in critical situations, (for example, in relation to the occupation of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, in relation to the Crimea and the war in the Donbas), the picture of the world collapses for Moscow analysts, at least a piece of the picture: the closest western neighbor behaves not in the way they think is correct. And it causes a nervous, maybe somewhat hysterical reaction. However, Belarus only gives its evaluation of what Moscow voices.

— They say that in the situation of complete isolation and worsening of domestic economic situation in Russia Kremlin may need another “small victorious war”. And the only country that isn’t too hard to win over for modern Russia is Belarus. Should we exclude such ending of the lingering marriage of convenience?

— This version of events should be borne in mind and taken into account in the Belarus-Russia relations. Of course, this is somewhat irrational, but Putin, Kremlin, and Russia today are pursuing an irrational policy. Such irrationality, however, is quite predictable, because this kind of regimes and their actions are well known in the history of European countries of the 19th-20th century. Indeed, a small victorious war was a response to internal difficulties for such regimes. Since neither war with Ukraine, nor participation in the Syrian venture will bring the expected results for Kremlin, it will have to explain its policy of recent years to the Russian society. And I think that no one will like these explanations. While the time for explanations hasn’t come yet, today's politicians in Kremlin need successes. In the situation of continuous losses, which Russia is experiencing now, they need positive achievements. It comes to mind of some people that the annexation of Belarus could be such a success for Russia to justify the entire imperial fuss of recent years.

It is doubtful that the annexation of Belarus can be realized in today's geopolitical realities, but Russia’s anticipation of “victory” over Ukraine, violation of Helsinki Accords looked just as unrealistic. Therefore, such wild prospect, like Belarus’ annexation, seems quite real in this situation. And it would be quite silly if the Belarusan society would turn a blind eye to such threats and wouldn’t be preparing for the worst.

— In your opinion, which myths in Belarus-Russia relations are particularly enduring now?

— Belarus now demonstrates quite strong interest to the country's history. Over the years of independence the Belarusan society has been trying to perceive itself as an independent sovereign state, as a full-fledged independent participant of European politics. To understand its position, the Belarusan society refers to history and finds something that was lacking in historical discourse and in the ideology during the Soviet time and is still missing from university and school textbooks. Namely, there have never been no eternal coexistence of Belarus and Russia in one state; Belarus as the core of the Great Duchy of Lithuania had, rather, been in constant military conflicts, in constant opposition to the Moscow principality and to the Russian empire in the 18th century; Belarus has never entered the Russian Empire voluntarily and was included in it by force; Belarus was the territory where several revolts against the Russian Empire and the struggle for independence started.

In Russia itself, the history is entirely mythologized. Therefore, Belarusans are mainly viewed as a nation that has never had its statehood, which has always been part of the great Russian nation... These myths stay in the Russian consciousness and greatly hinder the normalization of bilateral relations.

Furthermore, the mythologized integration initiatives — the CIS, “the Union State of Belarus and Russia,” and, finally, the Eurasian Union — have no viability, lack any real justification, but determine ideology, views, and position of Russia in relation to Belarus.

Until we get rid of all the ideological rubbish in relations between our countries, we will have to be careful, vigilant and continuously monitor the attempts of Russian politicians, even if small and marginal, to present their claims to our sovereignty and our statehood.