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Alexander Fridman: ‘Belgorod Scenario’ Would Deprive Lukashenka Of His Main Trump Card

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Alexander Fridman: ‘Belgorod Scenario’ Would Deprive Lukashenka Of His Main Trump Card
ALEXANDER FRIDMAN

Russia is afraid of this.

Lukashenka said that Ukrainians blew up the Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant, which fits into the narrative of Russian propaganda. He also repeated the controversial information of the Russian Ministry of Defense about the losses of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. How did Lukashenka turn into a Russian propagandist? The Charter97.org website talked about this with political scientist and historian Alexander Fridman.

— Lukashenka has long been tuned on the wave of Russian propaganda. I think the situation can be more complicated here. The first question that can be asked in this connection is whether he believes what he says. I admit that he does, that Lukashenka came to these conclusions under the influence of the sources that he has. We don't know what information ends up on his desk. It is quite possible to imagine that the report from the Ministry of Defense or the analytical note from the KGB, which are sent to him, contain precisely these narratives. I wouldn't rule out such a story.

The context is also important. Lukashenka has a special urge to repeat Russian propaganda narratives, he repeats them in almost all situations, with special efforts in the presence of Russian officials. Such a situation was with Patrushev, one of the architects of the war against Ukraine, a man who has already become famous for spreading the most odious fakes about a nuclear cloud over Western Europe or about Ukraine blowing up the Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant. By the way, he repeated in Minsk that the Ukrainians blew it up. This was said for Lukashenka and for the Russian audience.

In such situations, Lukashenka always strives to show that he is the main ally, that he is the only ally. He emphasized this many times, trying to increase his importance for Russia. Lukashenka willingly repeats all this, but I would not rule out the possibility that he may believe in this.

I would like to pay attention to something else: when Lukashenka touched on the topic of Ukrainian losses, he had a very strange figure, more than two thousand. Why strange — it does not correspond to the official information of the Russian Ministry of Defense. If I'm not mistaken, the figure they announced was clearly not two thousand, but closer to four. This is significantly different from what Lukashenka voiced.

Therefore, the question arises: what are these two thousand, where did they come from, if they did not appear anywhere in Russia? And why didn't he repeat what Shoigu voiced? Why does the Belarusian state propaganda replicate and quote all this and do not even try to answer the question for themselves, what is this figure of two thousand, where did he get it from?

Lukashenka usually says such things when he breaks away from a piece of paper and the so-called improvisation begins. It was just that case. Therefore, yes, he is part of the Russian propaganda apparatus, he is used to the full, but he is also working out his own program. Lukashenka already has a certain set of theses that has been formed, and he repeats them in this or that situation. Something goes to the first place, something goes to the second place, but nothing fundamentally changes, we have not heard anything new from Lukashenka.

— Does he come up with these sets on his own initiative? Or is the Kremlin asking for it?

— Some fundamental elements of this set have been agreed with the Kremlin. It is quite obvious that if Lukashenka regularly repeats certain theses, then the Kremlin agrees with this, no one tried to slap him on the head and say: “Don’t repeat this again, don’t do this again.” Lukashenka knows Putin, and Patrushev, and the rest of the company well, he understands how they think. They also exchange information with each other, probably a lot of conversations take place at the Security Council, where they speak in a completely different way.

Lukashenka knows what they want to hear. Yes, he is entitled to a certain initiative in the sense that he does not beat his chest and does not repeat everything word by word. You can tell him that he is such a specific fighter for peace that he always wanted there to be no war, that the war must be stopped in any way. Such pretentious “peace-loving rhetoric”, absolutely empty, which has nothing behind it, that's what Lukashenka can say. But how are his speeches constructed? First, something goes in this direction, and then it immediately begins that he is with Russia to the end, and so on. That is, there is a certain independence, but they hear what they want to hear, that Lukashenka is a true ally, that he is ready for anything. This is the most important thing for them. As for some hypothetical agreements — he can develop all this. There’s nothing acute about it for them. Like, this is his position, let him speak.

What is certainly agreed upon and where there can be no gag in principle is nuclear issues. Lukashenka is allowed in principle to speak out on the nuclear issue the way he speaks. If they did not like it and did not need it, they would have made it clear that this topic should not be discussed. I don't know if this is agreed with the Kremlin, but at least approved, Russia does not see this as a problem.

— At the beginning of the year, we saw Lukashenka's trips to Iran and China, which could take place at the request of the Kremlin, the territory of Belarus was used to shell Ukraine, but now there are no shellings, and the role of a “messenger” has also not taken root. Does the Kremlin still need Lukashenka or is he becoming a burden?

— I don't think he was a connector in the first place. Lukashenka is not a figure that can be used as a link. You must trust this person, you will not send someone whom you do not trust in principle and who has proven himself to be a rather difficult partner.

Besides, he's completely clueless. Yes, Lukashenka himself said: “We are in the same boat, let's get out together”. But he was not the one who jumped into this boat with a running start, as the circumstances developed. He chose this path, there are no questions at all, but this is not the situation in which he would like to be. If he wanted more, if he was ready, as he emphasizes, to really go to the end with Russia, then long ago the level of cooperation could have been completely different. Lukashenka could take the initiative, he could offer the Belarusian army, he could offer the Belarusian territory himself, and so on. But he didn’t. Lukashenka understands that this can bring unpleasant consequences.

As for his role as an ally, yes, he emphasizes it verbally very actively. But this is such a typical sale of air for Lukashenka in the sense that he will swear his love to the Kremlin, that he is an ally and that he will do everything. But the goal of all this is so that they don’t touch him, so that they don’t really press him and say: “Let’s send the Belarusian army, and let’s strike from the territory of Belarus to open an additional front.”

They do not do this not because Lukashenka is resisting. He, of course, resists, he does not like it, he opposes it. But if Russia wanted to do it, they would have done it. In this case, they are really afraid of a repetition of the Belgorod scenario, which is obvious today.

If a blow is struck from the territory of Belarus on the territory of Ukraine, a retaliatory strike will follow from the Ukrainian side. It is possible that some kind of sabotage groups will appear on the territory of Belarus. And, perhaps, the Kalinouski Regiment can be redeployed and sent closer to the Belarusian-Ukrainian border. Accordingly, this may create additional unpleasant moments for Lukashenka.

But Russia is not interested in this either. I think they understand that the situation with Lukashenka is not as stable as it may seem from the outside. Russia knows what the mood is in Belarus, they know that the spirit of the protests has not completely disappeared. And they probably understand that the Belarusian army is not quite such a simple story in the sense that it will put up worthy resistance. Therefore, they really would not like Belarus to turn into the Belgorod region, because after that turbulences are possible in Belarus.

There was no turbulence in Russia. The Belgorod region is an arena of hostilities, Russian society expresses something in social media, something is said there, bloggers write something, but in general, there is no shock state in Russia. I think that the majority continues to live their lives, not paying much attention to what is happening in Belgorod.

Belarus is a compact country, everything is different here. If this starts on the territory of Belarus, then Lukashenka will lose his main trump card at one moment. And his trump card, which he constantly emphasizes, is that “yes, we are, as it were, with Russia, but there is no war on our territory, we do not participate in it.” At the moment when Lukashenka finds himself in a war, in a real war, when the war comes to Belarus not on TV screens, but in reality, the mood of the population can change very quickly. Some kind of fermentation is possible even in the Belarusian elites. This, too, cannot be ruled out, and this does not suit Lukashenka at all.

— We see that at an unpleasant moment for itself, the Kremlin pulled out a map of undermining the Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant from its sleeve. How can the Kremlin use Lukashenka in the war?

— If you look at the story of the Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant, options are also possible there. I also proceed from the fact that this is, of course, a Russian action. But the Russian action can be different — it can be a purposeful story, or it can be a story of sloppiness, amateurism and unprofessionalism.

The Russians who did this could simply not appreciate the scale, it is absolutely possible. There is no need to exaggerate the level of knowledge, planning and other things among Russian officers. During the war, they showed what they are capable of, including in relation to various kinds of man-made disasters. It would be enough to recall how they wandered around the Chernobyl zone, how they dug in there, how they did not give a damn about all the radiation safety measures. Therefore, this option cannot be ruled out either.

The fact that Lukashenka repeated the Russian version is understandable, in front of him was Patrushev, who voiced this version. Lukashenka started talking about Ukraine, then he got carried away. Or not carried away, but he himself wanted to combine. Lukashenka loves such things, because the topic of Ukraine allows him to get on the pages of the world press, and it is very important for him to be in the spotlight. Therefore, he repeated this version.

In general, Lukashenka is trying on this scenario. He perfectly understands that everything that is happening today on the territory of Ukraine or the Belgorod region may well take place on the territory of Belarus. And Russia demonstrates its complete indifference. As for the Belgorod region, we see an openly disregard for its own population, a complete lack of interest. Not a single top Russian official has been in the Belgorod region during the entire period of shelling. And in fact, the message that goes: “They are shelling, these are your problems, you are not lucky, so live with it.”

And as for the Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant, what is the attitude towards people who are on the territory controlled by Russia, which they even included in their country? For them, there are even no words of regret and other things. What is Russian propaganda concerned about now? It is only concerned about convincing its population that Ukraine did it. By no means is saving people a priority.

If your main ally, your main patron and your main support treats their own territory and the territory that they have annexed in this way, then how do you think they will then react to your territory? And Lukashenka is not so stupid as not to understand this.

He understands it perfectly well, so I will emphasize to you once again at the end: his main phrases are not all these arguments, not all these conspiracy theories about Americans and so on. This is his typical set, all this is not even funny at all and is absolutely uninteresting, because Lukashenka repeats this from time to time.

It is precisely that moment about the story with the boat in which “everyone ended up” that is important. I would interpret Lukashenka's words like this: “I ended up in this situation, I don't like it, but you won't get out of it. This is how it is for us, let's somehow try in today's realities, and there will be no other realities, to get out of this situation together.”

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