Belarus: why is Putin holding back?
Ever since the post-election protests in Belarus began, observers have been looking to Russia with a mixture of concern and expectation. The consensus is that the Kremlin's reaction will be crucial in determining the fate of long-time President Alexander Lukashenka in Minsk.
Putin must not alienate the Belarusians
If Putin stands by Lukashenka he'll lose Belarus, writes Nina Khrushchev, the great-granddaughter of Nikita Khrushchev, in NV:
“Even if Lukashenka manages to stay in power, he's already lost his legitimacy because the Belarusians will not be able to forget the blows, the torture, and even the killings with which the regime suppressed the protests. And they won't forget the silence of the Kremlin. Every new day of protest increases the distrust and hostility towards the Kremlin, even among those who have never had such feelings. Putin should openly show solidarity with the people of Belarus. After all, it's their respect he needs, not that of the Lukashenka regime. That would reduce the West's chances of getting Belarus out of the Kremlin's sphere of influence.”
Don't strengthen the Russophobic front
Duma also believes that Putin would be better advised to align himself with the opposition rather than with Lukashenka:
“The dialogue offers Minsk and Moscow the opportunity to minimise damage and prevent Belarus from becoming part of the Russophobic wall of states that stretches from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea. It makes no sense for Belarus to become the last anti-Russian domino, especially since the majority of the population is pro-Russian and the Belarusian economy is deeply intertwined with that of Russia. Instead of engaging in dialogue, however, Lukashenka is taking up arms and even preparing to deploy the army against the demonstrators. ... Should Putin agree to help him with this violent strategy, the Belarusians will go from being Russophiles to Russophobes. ... The more Lukashenka presents himself as macho, the less Russia can find a way out of the crisis.”
Belarus is a test lab for the Kremlin
Vladimir Yushkin, head of the Tallinn-based Baltic Center for Russian Studies, explains Putin's Belarus strategy in Postimees:
“The Kremlin is observing the situation and will officially support Lukashenka until the last minute - but from a distance. But if the Kremlin understands that revolution is inevitable, this time it will not resist the course of history but will try to lead it in a direction that suits it best. In other words, at the critical moment, the Kremlin will turn its back on Lukashenka and back someone else. So we are now observing how events unfold as if this were a huge laboratory where the Kremlin is testing new political technologies for seizing power.”
Worrying for other despots too
Russia's behaviour is likely to give other authoritarian regimes a headache, hvg observes:
“The authoritarian political leaders who call Lukashenka their friend are observing with concern how the Minsk regime, which appeared to be relatively stable earlier this summer, is falling apart before their eyes. ... When the election results were announced, these friends almost immediately congratulated Lukashenka on his the 'great victory': Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan, Azeri leader Ilham Aliyev, Tajikistan's President Emomali Rahmon, Moldovan President Igor Dodon and Kazakhstan's Kassym-Jomart Tokayev were the first to express their good wishes. These despots must be horrified to see that Moscow is not coming to the aid of its ally.”