Staunton – In the wake of the August 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact which gave him a free hand in the Baltic countries, Stalin first demanded that Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania allow the establishment of a Soviet military base in that country, then introduced ever more Soviet forces, and finally annexed the three.
The same pattern is being repeated now in Belarus, Yury Felshtinsky says, with “only this difference” – Belarusian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka is silent while 75 years ago, “the governments of the Baltic countries protested as much as they could against Soviet annexation”.
The Russian-American historian points out that “until June 22, 1941, Hitler was Stalin’s ally. Today, on the European continent, Russia has no allies, and therefore the chances for Belarus to remain on the map as an independent state are higher than they were for the Baltic countries” in 1939-1940.
“But for the preservation of these chances,” he argues, “Lukashenka must refuse to sign an agreement with Russia on the placement of Russian forces in Belarus. Otherwise,” he suggests, “the Republic of Belarus again risk becoming the Belorussian Republic” under Moscow’s control.
There is not a lot of time left, he says. “On September 18, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree about the annexation of Belarus” by directing the Russian defense and foreign ministries to secure the agreement of the Belarusian side to the establishment of a Russian air base in Belarus.
That document, Felshtinsky points out, does not consider the possibility that Belarus might not agree, as TASS coverage has made clear since the beginning of September and as Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has underlined by saying that the goal of the base is “joint protection of the borders of the Union state in the air.”
This “union state,” of course, is “the Russian Federation plus Belarus,” the historian notes.
It should be noted, Felshtinsky continues, that “the Republic of Belarus is called ‘Belarus’ only in formal government documents (as for example in Putin’s decree of September 18) while in all reports and speeches of government officials and in the Russian presss Belarus is called by the old Soviet term Belorussia.”
What is most striking, however, is that Moscow is claiming agreement from the Belarusians even though there is every indication that Mensk has not given it and that Moscow is simply ignoring the Belarusian government and going ahead with its plans to create and expand its military presence in the neighboring country.
“All this means,” the Russian-American historian says, “that in Moscow a death sentence has been issued to Lukashenka because in the wake of the jets, Moscow will send Russian land forces into Belarus. With the help of these forces, following the Crimean scenario, Lukashenka will be overthrown,” just as the Baltic governments were in 1940.
Lukashenka has not displayed the resistance in public that he appears to be offering in private, at least in part because he cannot count on Western support given the West’s continuing description of him rather than of the Russian president as “the last dictator in Europe.” But the Belarusian people are a different story.
During a visit to Mensk this week, Andrey Piontkovsky says that the only thing Putin has managed to achieve by his pressure on Belarus is a growth in the national self-consciousness of the Belarusian people, a trend that the Russian analyst suggests is “irreversible.” Moscow thus faces real problems ahead in its Western neighbor.
From Window on Eurasia