Such developments serve as a pretext for proposing all sorts of theories in an assembly line. Therefore, it should be noted from the outset that Belarus is the point where the geopolitical interests of Russia and the West meet. This means that the situation in this country results from not only internal factors but also the external ones. Thus, all the words that are now have emerged in the political journalism’s vocabulary (the hybrid war, shaking or destabilizing the situation) are also applicable to Belarus. This degree of complexity requires serious and comprehensive research that would include the study of the internal Belarusian social contradictions, the geopolitical players’ interests, the motives of the Belarusian government and the confrontation within the Belarusian economic and political elites. We can only theorize about what the players on the Belarusian political stage are guided by.
We believe that the major event stimulating comprehension of the Belarusian elections is the detention of Wagner militants near Minsk. Our first thesis (accepting the version that Belarus was the Wagners’ final destination) is that these people’s arrival in Belarus is explained by the logic of political interests. As everything that happens in the social reality (in other words in relations between people), is the result of their activities, which usually correspond with their goals and interests.
Russia’s motives. To understand Russia’s policy toward Belarus, its key interests must be clearly defined. They include, firstly, the integration process of the two countries, which Lukashenko has recently begun to resist. Secondly, Belarus is obviously an important element in Russia’s security system in its confrontation with the West. Therefore, control over this country is vital for Russia.
The key question that arises from Wagner’s presence is why should Russia destabilize the situation in Belarus? There are many doubts that “Wagner” is the method to play along with the incumbent president, as the risks connected with the militants’ arrest seem obvious. The presence of the Wagner people in Belarus damages Russia’s image. This is another reason to remind that the use of pathetic rhetoric concerning “brotherhood of nations”, the common past and the future, are no more than dramatic methods to disguise the uncompromising, cynical and cruel features of the modern politics. This is especially important in the sense of Russia’s image transformation in the eyes of Belarusian society. In the same context, the Wagner people reveal the coercive methodology of Russia’s foreign policy. Another risk for Russia is the emergence of a new cooperation point between Belarus and Ukraine, facing common threat. At the same time, the Belarusian president’s circle is not likely to have illusions about Russia’s role in the war in Ukraine. This shows the awareness of possible prospects for Belarus if it fails to respond adequately to the Russian intervention. Thus, this incident may increase the resistance to Russia’s absorption of Belarus by both local elites and society. Therefore, no wonder that justifying the presence of the militants was Putin’s personal duty.
One of the options that could motivate Russia is to make the Belarusian authorities choose the path of force in order to provoke the West to respond harshly, hoping that Belarus will reactivate the inclinations towardits integration with Russia.
Finally, “Wagner” is the way to put the Belarusian political elite and Lukashenko personally in fear, with a view to warn them against the improper acts (according to Russia) and flirting with the West. As for Ukraine, it is the embodiment of Lukashenko’s fear of “losing the country”.
Threats and opportunities for the Belarusian government. In addition to the fact that “Wagner” poses a threat, the Belarusian authorities had the opportunity to benefit from the detention. A. Lukashenko and the regime he personalizes are openly pro-Russian, despite the fact that the Belarusian president sometimes demonstrates a certain adherence to principles in the Belarusian and Russian relations. However, the arrest of the Wagner militants allows the president to act as a security guarantee and makes it possible to declare that “to save the country is the matter of the first importance, and the elections are on the second place”. The possibility to oppose Russia’s policy in Belarus works in Lukashenko’s favor in the context of the fact that the opposition electorate is quite skeptical about Russia. Moreover, it is an additional opportunity to demonstrate to the West that his policy in Belarus is not over yet.
At the same time, the presence of “Wagner” and other Russian agents in Belarus creates the environment for legitimizing the strengthening control on the country providing security measures. And all the candidates participating in the Belarusian elections were informed about this. However, using all these opportunities is possible under one condition: if the regime has enough political will and principles, as well as confidence in its own intelligence services and military forces. The level of stringency with which the authorities treat the Wagner militants and Russia, inspires hope that this occasion will be an impetus for the Belarusian sovereignty’s recovering.
Ukraine. For Ukraine, Russia’s aggressive interference with Belarusian affairs, on the one hand, threatens that a new troubled zone will appear. For every participant of these processes, this will increase the load on the existing human, financial, informational and organizational resources, which in the conditions of the coronavirus crisis is a luxury even for Russia. In any case, Ukraine’s only possible reaction is to strengthen its security at the borders in cooperation with Belarus, which is currently happening. In this context, Ukraine also has political opportunities to get closer to Belarus in a joint confrontation with the common threats. Obviously, given Ukraine’s geopolitical interests, Belarus as an ally is better option than Belarus as Russian satellite state. And the Belarusian government’s maneuvering between the West and Russia means that Ukraine has a rather big range of political opportunities in this direction.
The moral. It is also worth mentioning the fact which we are not encouraged talking about. The problem of the modern international relations, as well as the sciences which study them, is that they ignore interests of the societies involved into the political struggle of elites. Realpolitik is not carried out within the paradigm of moral policy, which is based on the principles of preserving the life of the individual and society. In its return, it drags people into historical processes against their will, thereby committing large-scale violence against freedom and the right for peaceful and secure life. Any imperialism, including the Putin’s one, exhaust public resources, parasitizes on people’s work, increasing their economic, military and mental risks. Combating the aggressive policies of the imperialist countries requires not only military force but also a change in political discourse at the international level, so that the declared concern for human rights and interests becomes a system-forming principle of the interethnic relations and the collective opposition to modern barbarism or so-called Realpolitik.
Oleksandr Kovtun, PhD in Social Science, Khmelnytsk Institute of Social Technologies, exclusively for Institute of Democratization and Development