Nothing new under the sun.
We are having a troubling period in Belarus. Its President (or “President” if you like it better this way) hurries to Russia for assistance. Actually, nobody is surprised about that. Actually, we simply expected that. After all, Moscow would surely understand Minsk.
Western countries according to a definition say that it is good to have democratic and stable neighbours. Such neighbours will be friendly; you will be able to develop different economic and geopolitical projects. All neighbourhood policy of the European Union is based on the desire to have as stable and peaceful countries as possible in the neighbourhood.
Another story is with Russia. It is happy to take care of neighbourhood countries that are weak and unstable. Such countries can be turned into its vassals, you can demand them to be obedient and once you need, simply “take them under its wing”. In this way the great empire of Russia was formed; in this way Bolsheviks restored it under the name of the USSR, in this way Russia is acting now. To tell the truth, not very successfully, however it is still trying.
Thus, it is natural that so far Belarus has never been considered a good friend of the Western Europe, but it was quite good to Russia as a vassal. Now people talk that when Minsk fails to cope with protestors, Russia might come here ‘for good’. Thus, will Belarus be annexed? Same as was the situation with Crimea.
Is it hard to annex Belarus?
In a technical point of view, it is easier than in a political point of view. Actually, Belarus has been formally independent for almost thirty years and is painted in different colour in maps. In most aspects it has never left the Soviet Union. A lot of laws and decrees and technical standards of the former USSR are still in effect in Belarus. In many cases instead the word USSR we see the word Belarus only. Working methods of the country and regional administration do not actually differ, military and state security services have actually never been separated. Thus, Belarus reminds of a certain LEGO block that easily fits into the already existing construct.
It is more complicated in a political point of view. Formally, a so-called Union State exists, that is made of Russia and Belarus. It actually exists more on paper than in reality; however it may become a reality. Thus, a “stronger” union would not be a surprise. However, international space looks very suspicious to annexations and unions of states. We have experienced what it means to live in the annexed territory. Actually a lot of countries face the problem – to recognize or not?
Historical experience shows that nobody hurried to recognize the fact of annexation. Europe feels having had a painful lesson when several decades ago it allowed Hitler to take easily Austria, Sudetenland and all Czechia when it did not worry too much about the Baltic States. (Non) recognition of annexation is an important geopolitical instrument. Sometimes it lasts for a long time. Three generations already grew up since the Eastern Jerusalem was united and became the capital of Israel; however the peacekeeping mission of the United Nations is still “observing” the situation between Israel and not established Arab State. Europe still does not want to move their embassies to Jerusalem that Israel has announced formally as an indivisible capital of the state since 1980. International community still does not recognize annexations that last for several decades. Non-recognition has served us greatly and still does, since we have never been the USSR formally. Non-recognition enabled to establish such independent countries as Eritrea and East Timor, maybe it will enable to establish the Western Sahara.
Thus, if Russia needed Crimea just to please its sense of pride, then Belarus will not become such a pleasure. Even those who feel no sorrow for Belarus will not applaud. Once no annexation of Crimea has been recognized, it is hard to believe that friendship between Minsk and Moscow no matter how strongly it is emphasized would be seen as natural. Thus, a harsh annexation is not good here. Both presidents (or “presidents”) will have to look for more subtle solutions.
Since many people asked me as a forecaster of the future, what is going on here and what will be, I wrote a tale-non-tale on my Facebook profile. I will make a free interpretation of it here.
Thus, the Great Duchy of Lithuania was not the way its rulers could live without any troubles – we had everything - disagreements, revolutions and even murders. However, history recalls that some dukes and small dukes used to ask the West for support and some of them used to go to Mascals (Russians). The latter (such as Jaunutis) had a worse experience – they either died or used to get nothing, but the dukes such as Vytautas (who used to be called as Alexander in Christian way) got not only support from Crusaders but also made a European career.
Small duke of Belarus Lukashenka, also Alexander in Christian way, addressed the country of Mascols when he got into trouble. He has not read history or maybe does not believe in it. Once Moscow decides to give something to him, it will then take everything away from him. Actually, he could address Brussels. There uncles would be very surprised but then they would think that a new Mikhail appeared in Belarus (without a mark on the forehead) and he can be accepted with all red carpet. Then everybody would be happy. Even Mascols would be happy, because they
already do not know what to do with this small duke of Belarus and here he can be used to cheat the whole West.
But the truth is, the history here is not for nothing. Sometime during the Soviet time when I was still a young scholar, I used to take a train from Vilnius to Moscow and knew well where the wall between the Moscow Duchy and Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was at a certain time. Moving this wall from one place to another is the history of wars of several centuries. The Soviet Union maybe thought it managed to settle the geopolitical issue finally and irreversibly, however now people started reading history again and remember that from Polock or even Smolensk the state emblem there was Vytis and the name – Lithuania.
A geopolitical mission that has been pursued by Lithuania or Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth for several centuries was to counterbalance ambitions of Russia – another land empire. Russia became the European state when Lithuania got weak or disappeared. Catherine II dared to call Russia a European state only after Russia established itself in Livonia and actually became a part of Europe (or a problem of Europe?) only after division of the Commonwealth. The Great Duchy of Lithuania according to its definition was not just of Lithuanians and Belarusians, but also the state of Russians that refused to give the representation monopoly of Russians as an ethnic group to the Moscow Duchy to the end of its existence. Some people just make jokes that throughout its history the happiest Russian state was called... Lithuania.
Thus, whether Belarus will be ours or Russian is a geopolitical issue. A famous geopolitical guru George Friedman clearly defines geopolitical boundaries of Europe, stating that Europe is a peninsula that starts to the west from the line of Saint Petersburg – Rostov-on-Don. The line clearly shows that the Baltic States, Belarus and Ukraine are Europe, meanwhile all Russia with Moscow are outside the peninsula. Thus, making this line an actual boundary of civilizations is a strategic objective of the 21st century (at least its first half).
However, the objective of Russia is to do everything to prevent us from reaching this objective. Annexation of Belarus would be a geopolitical victory of Russia.
Here I have to say that nowadays the European Union contributes greatly to this. The mentioned Alexander could even visit Vilnius... as a suppliant. Then we would have a subtle annexation in favour of us and all Europe.