Belarusians look forward with hope at the heroically fighting volunteers.
How will the withdrawal from Kherson affect Russian society? Do Russians stop believing propaganda? Why is Lukashenka afraid of the Kalinouski Regiment?
Slovak political scientist and president of the Institute for Public Affairs (IVO, Bratislava) Grigorij Mesežnikov answers questions from Charter97.org.
— The military command of the Russian Federation announced the withdrawal of its troops from Kherson. Is it due only to military necessity or is there also a political intent?
— First of all, this is, of course, a military necessity, because the Ukrainian armed forces are doing everything to expel the Russian occupiers, and in recent months they have been achieving significant success. Russia had no choice but to try to withdraw so as not to lose at least that part of their armed forces that are in the occupied territory.
But if we proceed from the fact that Russia always uses everything for its own purposes, then, of course, there is a certain political moment there. It consists in the fact that the Russian Federation will begin to present all this as some kind of "gesture of goodwill", that "Russia is able to negotiate", that this is a country with which it is possible to reach some agreements, ceasefire and so on.
Apparently, it will try to use the withdrawal from the occupied part of Ukraine in order to put pressure on Western countries, try to influence Ukraine's position through them, to make it softer. But I am sure that Russia will not succeed with it.
— More and more often there is news about the riots of the mobilized, their wives and mothers. Are Russians beginning to realize that they are being dumbed down, or is it too early to talk about it?
— It's too early to tell. So far, discontent is shown only by those who have been directly affected in some way. This was an important indicator, a large number of Russians fled abroad when the so-called partial mobilization was declared. They understood that they themselves were under the threat.
Basically, most of these people did not react in any way to what had happened before, they took no anti-war actions. People attempted to protect themselves somehow when they declared mobilization. Maybe those who are directly connected with the war – family members of the dead, wounded, mobilized – they are now discontented. However, this is a discontent that follows from their personal interests, experiences and stress. It is too early to say that the society will now come up with some strong anti-war slogans.
— Prigozhin and Kadyrov praise the new commander Surovikin for withdrawing troops from Kherson, although General Lapin was recently criticized for leaving Izyum. Are there any back-door games in Russia?
— Apparently, back-door games do take place, but it now seems to me that Surovikin’s mindset is more suitable for Prigozhin and Kadyrov. Yes, he gave the order to leave, although I strongly believe that this order was given by Putin personally, it is not an amateur activity of Surovikin or Shoigu. They did not take such decisions, that is, they needed the consent of the Supreme Commander. So they praise Surovikin, most likely, also because they consider him a possible ally in any personal political ambitions. Prigozhin and Kadyrov had such ambitions.
Now we need to follow the developments, because rather than anti-war speeches and sentiments, they will determine the fate of the Putin regime, namely, the fact that this regime is losing the war. Defeats are becoming more dangerous for Putin than any anti-war social sentiments. It seems to me that the part of the society that agrees with this war is still larger, and if they make any claims against Putin, they will accuse him first of all of Russia's loss.
— Many Ukrainian experts say that after leaving Kherson the Russian Federation will try to repeat the offensive to the north of Ukraine, notably, with the help of Belarusian troops. Is there a threat of recurrence?
— In this case, nothing can be completely excluded, because this regime can do anything. Russians, by the way, now on the one hand show gestures of goodwill as they speak, but on the other — shelling the Ukrainian cities, blowing up part of the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Plant. That is, you can expect anything.
In this situation, Russia can somehow try to involve Belarus again. It seems to me that the very fact that Russia is losing, that the West is not weakening support for Ukraine is terrible for Lukashenka. He saw the end of the first northern campaign of Russian troops and its shameful defeat. Lukashenka will start to consider his own fate. Ukraine gives quite clear signals to the Lukashenka regime that it will take it very seriously and the price will be high. Lukashenka will have to pay a domestic price, defending his regime. Although the participation of the Belarusian army in the war cannot be ruled out completely, I still think that this is unlikely.
— Belarusian volunteers are fighting in Ukraine today, and many Belarusians are putting their hope in them. Top Belarusian security forces and Lukashenka personally are discussing the Kalinouski Regiment. Why are they so afraid of it?
— First, because they will have direct experience of warfare and can use it not only against the current Russian aggressor.
The Belarusian regime essentially relies on Russian bayonets. If Putin's position in Russia weakens, it will weaken Lukashenka's position as well. In the future, Belarus may face some kinds of mass unrest. Therefore now these people who fight (as far as I know, fight very skillfully, effectively and heroically), that's why they are dangerous for Lukashenka. Also, we can also assume that those Belarusians who hate Lukashenka and his regime will see in these people a practical hope that when something starts in Belarus, they will fight against the regime together with the people.