On the brink of war?

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Belarus Security Blog held another off-line discussion, dedicated to the likelihood of a military exacerbation provoked by Lukashenka regime. The participation in the event was only on the invitation. During the discussion the distance between the participants was kept and the participants were provided with personal protection means.

During the discussion, two opposing views were expressed.

The pessimistic one: Lukashenka regime views the military escalation in the region as a working tool for solving foreign policy tasks of forcing the West (represented by the United States) to negotiate on acceptable terms and at the same time forcing the Kremlin to unconditionally support Lukashenka regime. In the latter case, we are talking about financial and economic support and the removal from the bilateral political agenda of the issues unacceptable for official Minsk.

The format of such an aggravation can be modelled as a short-term (several days) local armed conflict without the use of aircraft and large-calibre artillery. While demonstrating a determination to expand both the scale of the clashes and the level of their intensity.

In such a situation, the Kremlin will be faced with a dilemma: either to confirm its anti-Western/anti-Ukrainian rhetoric by taking practical steps to support its formal ally in Minsk, which threatens further escalation hitting Russia’s interests; or to intervene in order to resolve the conflict, which will require some kind of local agreement between Russia and the West. In the latter case, it will be extremely difficult: the West will demand that Lukashenka regime be held accountable, which means serious concessions on the part of the Kremlin (surrender of the formal ally). For political and image reasons, the Russians will not be able to do that.

The dangers of the described scenario are:

— The likelihood of an uncontrollable escalation of the conflict and its geographic expansion.

— Protraction of the conflict in conditions of limited available resources of Lukashenka regime.

— The West proceeds from the lack of independence of Lukashenka regime (which is a mistake) and considers it as a Russian proxy, which means that negative consequences for Russia will be inevitable (for example, in the form of the so-called “hellish sanctions”). This will leave Moscow no choice but to become an active party to the conflict.

Thus, a local conflict with a high probability can lead to a protracted regional conventional war between the two blocs (Belarus-Russia and NATO-Ukraine).

The optimistic one: Lukashenka regime, realizing the level of its vulnerability, will not risk provoking a military escalation without securing preliminary guarantees of external support. In addition, there is a high degree of coordination of foreign policy steps between Belarus and Russia. Thus, any military action on the part of the official Minsk can be carried out only by agreement and within the framework of a single plan with Moscow.

Lukashenka regime is aware of the level of threats to its existence from the Kremlin and fears an increase in dependence on Russia. But objective factors and the current political situation in fact make the deepening of such dependence inevitable in the near future. Any escalation in the region will entail the establishment (attempt to establish) full political control over Belarus by Russia under the pretext of joint defence against external aggression. After the establishment of such control, even the physical survival of a number of personalities from the Belarusian top nomenclature will become problematic. The political system and the system of power in Belarus will be completely reformatted.

In addition, any military escalation in the region, regardless of the format of Belarus’ involvement in it, will deal a crushing blow to the Belarusian economy. A direct participation in the conflict will entail physical damage. Moreover, the higher the intensity of the conflict, the greater such losses will be. In these conditions, it will be extremely problematic to maintain control over the situation in Belarus.

The participants in the discussion came to a general agreement that the period of the presence of Russian troops in Belarus in connection with the upcoming exercises “West-2021” is a period of increased danger to regional security. But they assessed the level of this danger in different ways.

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