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September 3, 2020 Special Dispatch No. 8920

Russian Leaders View The Belarus Opposition At Best As Incompetents, At Worst As Russophobic Foreign Agents

September 3, 2020
Russia | Special Dispatch No. 8920

Russian President Vladimir Putin only belatedly intervened in the crisis in Belarus prompted by mass protests against the August 9 2020 elections on the grounds that they were fraudulent.  However, when he did so on August 27, 2020, it was with a bang. He chose an interview with News on Saturday anchor Sergei Brilyov to warn that Russia would aid Belarus' President Lukashenko in restoring order in line with Russia's treaty obligations:

"Indeed, the Union Treaty, that is, the Treaty on the Union State, and the Collective Security Treaty (CSTO) include articles saying that all member states of these organisations, including the Union State, which consists of two states only – Russia and Belarus, are obliged to help each other protect their sovereignty, external borders and stability. This is exactly what it says.

"In this connection, we have certain obligations towards Belarus, and this is how Mr. Lukashenko has formulated his question. He said that he would like us to provide assistance to him if this should become necessary. I replied that Russia would honor all its obligations.

"Mr. Lukashenko has asked me to create a reserve group of law enforcement personnel, and I have done this. But we have also agreed that this group would not be used unless the situation becomes uncontrollable, when extremist elements – I would like to say this once again – when the extremist elements, using political slogans as a cover, overstep the mark and start plundering the country, burning vehicles, houses, banks, trying to seize administration buildings, and so on."[1]


Putin interviewed by Sergei Brilyov (Source: Rg.ru)

Putin's declaration created a bar for the protesters by informing them that even if they succeeded in overwhelming Lukashenko's security forces they would then face the more daunting challenge of Russian intervention.

A few days later Putin further telegraphed his support for Lukashenko Ng.ru, August 30, 2020 whhe the presidents of the Russian Federation and Belarus, Vladimir Putin and Alexander Lukashenko, during a telephone conversation, as report ed by the Kremlin press service. In the conversation the leaders confirmed their "Mutual disposition to further strengthen the Russian-Belarusian alliance and expand mutually beneficial cooperation in all areas has been confirmed. It was agreed to hold a meeting in Moscow in the coming weeks.[2] Putin also used the occasion to offer birthday felicitations to Lukashenko.

Putin's remarks did not come out of the blue but were a culmination of statements against the demonstrators in Belarus and for Lukashenko. It started with government media outlets and politicians continued with official personages. They branded the protests as external interference and manipulation; an attempt to dismember Belarus, and indirectly a threat to Russia. The opposition in Belarus was dismissed as incompetent freaks whereas Lukashenko was praised as the father of Belarus' independence and a man who had guided his country in the same manner that the Kim dynasty had preserved North Korean independence.

A survey of the hardening Russian position on Belarus follows below:

The Protest Movement In Belarus Is Essentially Hostile To Russia

Russian Senator Alexei Pushkov claimed that a reading of the Telegram channels of the Belarusian opposition showed that protestations that the opposition was not Russophobic were "groundless and a propaganda device". Pushkov singled out writer Svetlana Aleksievich, a member of the opposition's Coordination Council, and a tempting target. Aleksievich had said: "Today the world again starts to fear: what is happening there, in that hole, in that abyss, which has nuclear weapons, crazy geopolitical ideas and does not understand the concept of international law? We are dealing with a Russian man who over the past 200 years made war for almost 150 years. And he never lived well. Human life is worthless to him, and the concept of greatness for him is not that a person should live well, but that the state should be large and stuffed with missiles."[3]

Although many of the protesters were not Russophobic, conceded Pushkov, "if we talk about the composition of the [opposition's] Coordination Council, then such an agenda is obvious: the council represents exactly the most Russophobic forces in Belarus...There should be no illusions" Pushkov concluded.[4]

The leader of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, Gennady Zyuganov warned during a video conference of the Union of Communist Parties - CPSU (Federation of Communist Parties in the post-Soviet space) "It is important for everyone to understand that if Belarus is broken, it will be even worse in Russia." As a result, "We must now unanimously oppose what is happening. In Belarus, there is, in fact...an attack on the republic by anti-Russian forces, and this was done in many countries, but today Belarus is under attack." [5]

An official press agency, Ria.ru, also believed that the demonstrators in Belarus were being orchestrated by foreign element and signaled out Russia's historic enemy Poland: "In the case of the Belarusian protest, no one even tries to somehow hide or retouch the foreign influence.... every action in Belarus is directly controlled. From sites and TV channels that broadcast from Poland and are sometimes openly supported by money from the Polish budget, they broadcast constant instructions around the clock about who is going [to demonstrate] in which city and on which street, where they are going, what blocks, what slogans they display and what equipment they have with them ... Sometimes there are also direct calls for violent action against law enforcement agencies."[6]

For news aggregator Lenta.ru, the cat was let out of the bag in the meeting between the French writer, philosopher and journalist Bernard-Henri Levy, "the gray cardinal of liberalism", and opposition presidential candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who had fled to Lithuania. This was proof positive that said it all in terms of a color revolution in the making and the anti-Russian direction of the protest movement.

"Levy is known for his support for liberal values ​​and revolutionary movements in various countries. In particular, in 1999 he called on NATO countries to support the Kosovo Liberation Army and start bombing Yugoslavia, as well as to assist the President of the unrecognized Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, Aslan Maskhadov. In addition, the French journalist supported the Rose Revolution in Georgia in 2003 and Euromaidan in Ukraine in 2014. Levy also took part in the events of the 'Arab Spring', opposing the Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, and offered to deal with the regime of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria according to the Libyan scenario." [7]


Bernard Henri-Levy (Source: Gulfnews)

Aleksei Dzermant, a political scientist and researcher at the Institute of Philosophy of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus, told Pravda. Ru, that Poland could possibly intervene to defend "ethnic Poles in Belarus" and holders of the "Poland Card" [awarded to Poles living outside of Poland]. Polish troops, would be brought into Grodno and Brest within Belarus, after which the regions will pass under a "Polish protectorate".

"It will be very easy to capture them from the Polish side, especially if there is instability inside. This, of course, is the most negative scenario, I do not think that it has a high realistic percentage, but, nevertheless, there is cause for concern. According to  Dzermant, the internal protests in Belarus are were controlled through new media - Telegram channels, YouTube - channels created by the Polish special services. "In fact, we have signs of hybrid aggression, where information weapons are the main ones. And this aggression can lead to the demolition of the state system and the Belarusian state that we know,” said Dzermant.[8]


Alexei Dzermant (Source: Sputnik.by)

The ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky, leader of the Liberal Democratic Party called for outright annexation and offering Lukashenko the consolation prize of vice premier in charge of agriculture.

Zhirinovsky explained that Russia was forced to choose between two evils - between the power of Lukashenko himself, against whom the Belarusians have risen, and the pro-Western opposition. "They [the opposition] are against Russia, they already speak English and are flying EU flags."[9]

Putin's press secretary Dmitry Peskov, responding to a question whether Putin was certain that external forces were destabilizing the situation in Belarus and targeting Russia said: "In this case, I can only repeat what we have already said. Indeed, we remain concerned about some indirect and direct manifestations of external interference in Belarusian affairs. We ourselves consider this unacceptable and call on everyone to give the Belarusians the opportunity to resolve their problems themselves."[10]

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov inserted the accusation of outside interference in an interview on Russia's First Channel: "We appealed to these countries, primarily the US and the EU, to pay attention to those circles, such as in Poland and Lithuania, that are emphatically expressing their discontent with normalization in Belarus and are trying to provoke violent actions in order to cause a respective response from law enforcement."[11]

Opposition Makes Futile Attempt To Parry Charges

It is worth mentioning that the opposition was aware that both Russia and Lukashenko sought to counter the impression that they were anti-Russia. Addressing the European Parliament, Tikhanovskaya told the MEPs via video link from Lithuania: “This peaceful revolution is not about geopolitics. It is neither a pro-Russian revolution nor a contra-Russian revolution. It is neither a pro-European nor an anti-European revolution...[but] Belarusians fighting for the possibility of democratic and free elections and for making decisions by themselves."[12]

Maria Kolesnikova, a member of the opposition's Coordination Council Presidium, sought to turn the tables on Lukashenko by identifying him as the main impediment and of failing to build good-neighborly relations with Russia during his 26 years in power, despite the existence of the Union State between Russia and Belarus.

"All that we see is some kind of manipulation, this is a constant deception, some general inability to precisely establish mutually beneficial and pragmatic relations."[13]


Tikhanovskaya (l) and Kolesnikova during presidential campaign (Source: Themoscowtimes.com)

Lukashenko Is Better For Belarus Than The Opposition

In addition to the claim that the opposition was Russophobic and acting on behalf of foreign interests, those deriding the opposition claimed that it could not constitute an effective substitute for Lukashenko.

Appearing on Russia Today, Artyom Lukin an Associate Professor at Far Eastern Federal University's Department of International Relations, compared Lukashenko with the Kim dynasty in North Korea and intended it as a compliment.

"The moment Lukashenko leaves, the history of the Belarusian state as a sovereign unit runs the risk of ending. Because it was he [Lukashenko], who fashioned this state amid the post-Soviet confusion. It was under Lukashenko that Belarus for the first time in modern history formed a full-fledged statehood, albeit with a touch of despotism.

In a sense, Lukashenka's Belarus is a European North Korea, a relatively small and poor country, but at the same time a completely sovereign state built from scratch in a difficult geopolitical environment. Take out the Kim Dynasty, and North Korea will most likely collapse. Destroy the Lukashenko regime - and Belarus, at best, will remain with purely nominal sovereignty, like most European states, which are de jure sovereign, and de facto are little more than the autonomous provinces of the empire, which is governed by Washington, Brussels and London – the real centers of power.[14]

RT's editor in chief Maria Simonyan acidly disparaged the opposition: "The West always chooses as many freaks as possible: if it is Georgia, then [Mikheil] Saakashvili, if Ukraine, then [Viktor] Yushchenko, if Belarus, then Tikhanovskaya," the head of RT explained.

Simonyan said that the Telegram channels wrote about Svetlana Tikhanovskaya's IQ test: "She has an IQ of 82, and this is a level slightly higher than an orangutan. In addition, even from the video it is obvious that she has psychological problems."

Simonyan explained that the demonstrations resulted from the people's failure to objectively assess the situation and comprehend what would await them in case the opposition is victorious.[15]


RT editor Maria Simonyan (Source: Tass.com)

Gennady Zyuganov called the strikes taking place in Belarus the path to the destruction of the state, since Svetlana Tikhanovskaya and the opposition as a whole have no proposals on what to do, "neither in the economy, nor in politics, nor in other sectors."[17]

Levada Center Poll Shows That These Charges Had Sunk In Or Were Already Embedded In Public Opinion

The charges that the protests were the result of foreign manipulation were shared by a large segment of Russian public opinion as evidenced by a poll by the independent Levada Center published on August 27, 2020. While the respondents were split over whether the elections in Belarus were fair (with 48% considering them fair versus 36% who considered them unfair) 57% of the respondents wanted Lukashenko to remain. 39% viewed the protests negatives as compared with 25%, who saw them positively. Asked about the causes of the protests, 39% claimed that it was a provocation by foreign forces; 28% people were tired of Lukashenko's rule' 28% said it was a provocation by the opposition; 23% felt that it was to protest falsification of the results and 23% claimed it was pent-up discontent (respondents were allowed to supply more than one answer).[18]

 

[1] Kremlin.ru, August 27, 2020

[2] Ng.ru, August 30, 2020.

[3] Aif.ru, August 20, 2020.

[4] Mk.ru, August 20, 2020.

[5] Rbc.ru, August 18,2020; Pravda.ru, August 18, 2020.

[6] Ria.ru, August 20, 2020/

[7] Lenta.ru, August 20, 2020.

[8] Pravda.ru, August 18, 2020.

[9] Mk.ru, August 23, 2020

[10] Ria.ru, August 24, 2020.

[11] Mid.ru, August 25, 2020.

[12] Euractiv.com, August 25, 2020.

[13] Life.ru, August 29, 2020.

[14] Russian.rt.com, August 20, 2020.

[15] Vesti.ru, August 19, 2020.

[16] Pravda.ru, August 18, 2020.

[17] Levada.ru, August 27, 2020.

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