And here are the red lines. What Putin and Lukashenko are striving for
There is now an impulse for significant economic sanctions against Belarus both in Europe and in the United States.
Of course, in Belarus we are witnessing a rather unusual development of events: a pirate seizure (in other words, it cannot be described) of a Ryanair aircraft took place in the country’s airspace , which was forced to land in Minsk, after which opposition journalist Roman Protasevich was arrested .
I want to share some of my findings:
First , Alexander Lukashenko could not have made such an unthinkable step without first agreeing it with Vladimir Putin. Now Lukashenko is completely dependent on Putin, his stay in power depends on the latter, so he would not risk these relations with the Kremlin by taking such a desperate step without receiving the green light from the Russian president.
Secondly , this scandal for Lukashenka has the same meaning as the attempted murder of Skripal or the murder of Litvinenko for Putin. It is intended to be a clear message to the opposition and the West that no one supporting the opposition is safe. The regime wants to instill terror in the opposition, so it could well be called an act of terrorism.
It can be argued that this is both a test of the West’s weaknesses and their emphasis, using which Putin ( in the case of Skripal or Litvinenko) and Lukashenko ( in the case of Protasevich) demonstrate that they can fight the opposition with impunity. Perhaps they are testing the ground for more repression, which will take place in both countries closer to the elections to the State Duma.
Thirdly , if anyone doubted Lukashenko’s complete dependence on Putin, his vertical of power and a model of sovereign democracy, as well as deeper integration of Belarus into Russia, then this situation gave an exhaustive answer. Lukashenka is now completely dependent on Putin, there are no more bridges connecting with the West. He is ready to surrender the sovereignty of Belarus in order to save his own skin from the prospect of repeating the fate of Ceausescu.
Fourth , this is a serious test for the EU and the entire West. Do they understand the threat this poses to Western liberal free-market democracy? Are they capable and willing to really do something to stop the attack of the kleptocrats? Lukashenko is not just trying to defend himself, but is conducting a full-fledged frontal attack on the EU – after all, a European plane flying from one European capital to another forced the autocratic regime to land. If the West allows Lukashenka to avoid responsibility for this, no Western airline will be safe flying over any country ruled by autocrats. Heaven and dissidents are not safe.
Fifth , the West is capable of introducing substantial sanctions against Belarus. He has numerous mechanisms for this:
– Add Belarus to the black list of the Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering ( FATF), which would cut Belarus off from the global financial system or significantly complicate financial transactions;
-Introduce sanctions against the sovereign debt of Belarus ( for primary or secondary issue). Close external flows of financing for the Lukashenka regime;
– Impose sanctions against companies that are the main pillars of the regime, such as Belaruskali, a large tractor plant, oil refineries and large state banks.
– Close western airspace for Belarusian airlines and restrict aircraft flights from the EU over and into Belarus.
All of the above would have made Belarus more dependent on Russia, but in reality Lukashenka has already burned all the bridges with the West. Lukashenka is already dependent on Putin, but now punitive sanctions against Belarus will increase the cost of keeping Lukashenka in power for the Kremlin. And if Moscow has to pay a high price for this – now it is about $ 2-3 billion annually, it can increase to $ 5-10 billion – then it can rethink what it wants in Belarus. If Putin wants to form a new empire around Moscow, then he will have to pay the price to finance Belarus, Crimea, L / DPR, Transnistria and South Ossetia, as well as Syria. Given that the Russian economy is already stagnating due to the sanctions, this could make Putin think twice, as Russians will not be happy with a decline in living standards.
Sixth , Putin talked about his red lines with the West, and Belarus is probably on one of them, but I think that this decision moved the red line very far. This is an attack, not a defense, by Lukashenka and his supporters in the Kremlin.
At the same time, the silence of the Biden administration in relation to the alleged Russian participation in this scandal is curious. Now they are clearly guided by the desire to hold a meeting with Putin.
But there is still an impulse for significant economic sanctions against Belarus both in Europe and in the United States. Their willingness to take action quickly is impressive, given past hesitations about Russia. I think that this desire to quickly impose economic sanctions against Belarus reflects the following:
First , the understanding that Lukashenka has indeed crossed the line and challenged the EU in his own rear. If the EU could not respond to actions aimed at a European plane flying from one EU country to another, then what is it capable of?
Secondly, after the disastrous visit of the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell to Moscow, I think that the EU wants to demonstrate its character in foreign policy and show that the EU has a foreign policy at all. This is a ” now or never” case .
Thirdly , the West believes that it can impose serious sanctions against Belarus without fear of risk to the economies of their countries. After all, Belarus is not a key state in the global supply chain.
Fourth , perhaps the West perceives Belarus as a place to test tougher sanctions against Russia, and they are now testing them on Belarus.
Fifth , Europe understands that Putin is involved ( Russia and Belarus have the same air defense system, so it is impossible for Moscow not to know about the plan to land the Ryanair plane). And if Putin wants Belarus, supporting it and wanting further integration, then he must pay a high price for this. Therefore, Russia expects an increase in annual spending on Belarus several times. That is, Putin’s foreign adventures will rise in value just before the elections in September, when his electorate will go to vote, already tired of extreme austerity.
Sixth , the opposition is calling for tougher economic sanctions. She is prepared for how this will affect the economy.