Can Lukashenka count on Putin?
While the mass protests continue unabated in Belarus, the country's long-time President Alexander Lukashenka flew to Sochi on Monday to meet with Vladimir Putin. The Russian president received him warmly and agreed to give him a 1.5 billion-dollar loan. The press, however, doesn't see this as a clear profession of solidarity with his beleaguered Belarusian counterpart.
Kremlin facing a dilemma
Whether Putin likes it or not he simply has no alternative to Lukashenko in Belarus, Echo of Moscow points out:
“The Belarusian opposition leaders can talk of friendship with Russia, respect and brotherhood as much as they want - and with absolutely sincerity! Nevertheless, Tikhanovskaya, Kolesnikova and everyone else want to build a country that will no longer be ideologically similar to Russia. Ideally, Putin would like to swallow up Belarus. He had hoped to somehow bend or replace the nasty old man, and didn't expect things to turn out differently. Now he has to choose: either Belarus takes a different path or he will have to help this Mr. Potato Head vampire.”
If need be Russia will settle things itself
Lukashenka cannot trust Putin to help him stay in power, believes Keskisuomalainen:
“He is clinging to power and conveying the image to Putin that he is fending off a colour revolution orchestrated by the West which could also spread to Russia. But for Putin, ensuring that there will continue to be a pro-Russian government in Belarus is more important than Lukashenka's fate. Russian police forces have already been offered to support the neighbouring country's leadership. It appears that Russia will not allow the opposition to overthrow Lukashenka, but Russia itself may do so.”
Lukashenka no doubt hoped for more
Commenting after the meeting, Népszava is convinced that Putin will not support Lukashenka at all costs:
“There is by no means a relationship based on mutual trust between the Belarusian President and Putin. Their relations have deteriorated over the past ten years. Since the outbreak of the demonstrations the Belarusian President has often presented himself as an unconditional supporter of Russia's leadership, but this only shows that he too is aware that he has lost the support of his fellow citizens. ... So help from Moscow is his only chance. But Putin only needs Lukashenka until the Kremlin has found a better alternative. ... The Russian president must also consider the reaction of the Belarusian population. It is probably not in his interest to incur their anger.”
This man is no longer the right partner
Putin must stop supporting Lukashenka in his own interest, writes an unnamed author in a post from the anonymous left Telegram channel SerpomPo republished by Echo of Moscow:
“If Putin doesn't want to end up with another hostile country on his doorstep, and if he wants to preserve the chance of a new loyal leadership in Belarus, then there is only one scenario: he must tell Lukashenka very clearly that he will not get any support. And that all political prisoners are to be released unconditionally, including the political and social leaders Babaryka, Tikhanovsky, Kolesnikova and Statkevich. ... Then Lukashenka must leave Belarus (if he can) and clear the way for a new election in six months' time. ... Russia's leadership must finally understand: Lukashenka's time is up, Belarus has changed forever.”
Kremlin has long since got it all prepared
Putin is preparing for the post-Lukashenka era, says Bogusłav Chrabota, editor-in-chief of Rzeczpospolita:
“Without doubt, the keys to the presidential palace in Minsk are in one of the drawers at the Kremlin. I doubt Putin believes that Russia's influence in Belarus will end with Lukashenka. Vladimir Vladimirovich has most certainly prepared other scenarios. The proof is the increasing presence of anonymous 'green men' in unmarked cars in Belarus. How soon will these men take off their balaclavas and take responsibility for the insurgent country? And will someone then invite Svetlana Tikhanovskaya and Svetlana Alexievich, or someone else entirely, to engage in talks? We'll probably find out this autumn.”
Russia not about to invade
The Belarusian ruler will certainly not ask his big neighbour for military help, political scientist Dmitri Oreshkin writes in nv.ua:
“Lukashenka understands that as long as power in Belarus can rely on violence, it belongs to those who have the most bayonets. If bayonets loyal to someone else suddenly appear on the scene, Lukashenka will become Putin's puppet. And then he'll be removed. That would be good for the Kremlin, but not for Lukashenka. For him, peaceful demonstrators are still less of a threat than armed soldiers from Russia. ... The following scenario is the most likely: the Belarusian security forces will continue to try to suppress the demonstrations. And Lukashenka will not comply with Putin's request to let the 'green men' he sent to annex Crimea in 2014 into Belarus.”
No proxy war, please!
The Times of Malta hopes that Belarus won't be crushed between the interests of Russia and the West:
“Belarus should not become another geopolitical playground where Russia and the West jostle for interests. This is a crucial factor. In the Second World War - commonly known in the former USSR as the Great Patriotic War - thousands of villages and settlements were destroyed. A common fact cited by many Belarusians is that 25 per cent of the population were killed during this war, while 85 per cent of the capital, Minsk, was razed to the ground. The fear of something similar happening is not too far off the minds of many Belarusians.”