While American attention is focused on the Pandemic and our upcoming elections it’s easy to lose touch with global security issues. In fact few Americans are following events in Europe, and even fewer aware of the new government brutality related to elections in Belarus.  Of course a decade and more ago the same could have been said for American understanding of the early “color revolutions” in Georgia, the other former Soviet Republics – and especially the Ukraine.

In Creating Chaos I attempted to examine the color revolutions in the context of political warfare – and to detail the evolution of Putin’s evolving “sphere of influence” strategy. In particular I explored Putin’s weaponising of the FSB (Russian Federal Security Service) for foreign intervention, initially targeting Moldavia, Georgia, and Belarus. That strategy proved quite sound – ensuriing that individuals taking power in those republics had and retained old line Moscow connections. Of course they needed to be reminded that they were allowed to be nominally independent, but expected to maintain strong political and economic ties to Russia.

That approach worked quite effectively – even though it had to be bolstered by military intervention in Georgia – in many of the new “democratic” republics, as well as in several of the former Asian Soviet states. Over time it didn’t work nearly as well in the Ukraine, requiring more  military intervention.

Fast forward a few years and the color revolutions are ancient history – but not really. Popular (messy) democracy and independence from Moscow remain a concern even years later. To Putin the loss of political influence in any former Soviet republic represents a blow to the Russian sphere of influence strategy and will always remain a concern, on occasion perceived as an actual threat if it undermines Russian military access (as in Crimea).

Which brings to 2019 and 2020 in Belarus, and the political mechanization’s of its president Alexander Lukashenko (long closely tied to Moscow). With yet another election coming up in 2020, what was one to think of Lukashenko’s sudden claims in 2019 that there had been an attempted coup against him – requiring enhanced security measures?  A coup positioned as being supported by his longtime friends in Moscow?

Interestingly, Russian media supported the original concept that a coup was in play – but one orchestrated by the West,  as earlier in Yugoslavia and Ukraine. And of course with covert support by Ukraine, always to be pictured as a Western puppet. Of course any popular movement in Belarus would simply be an artifact of Western political operatives. 

What now seems a bit clearer is that Lukashenko’s claims of a coup attempt were most likely a proactive move to suppress popular opposition ahead of the upcoming elections. Lukashenko  floated the idea that Russian mercenaries were involved with the local opposition in a coup against him – at the same time knowing full well that those Wagner Group mercenaries were simply in transit though Belarus (part of an ongoing agreement to move covert Russian military personnel into deployments in Africa, very likely Libya).

Blame the Russians, let the Russians blame the West – net result, a reason to suppress dissent in the interest of national security.  A complex story, terribly hard to following in real time but with one clear outcome.

On the other hand, the next state of the story – the elections of 2020 in Belarus – offer a much more definitive picture of political warfare in the former Soviet Republics.  If you watched any of the news streams you should have been shocked by the brutality of the paramilitary forces directed against the street protests (for clarity, I mean from Belarus, not the earlier ones from Washington D.C.).  Protesters were obviously beaten, terrorized and put on television to recant – in classic Soviet era mode – it’s getting harder to keep grounded in what century we are viewing on television. If you missed it, check these links:

https://www.euronews.com/2020/08/14/belarus-crackdown-evidence-grows-of-widespread-torture-as-protesters-are-freed

And then women formed lines to protect the protesters (wow, more déjà vu)

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-53761747

My point in all this is to contribute just a bit of news from outside the U.S., to point out that the tactics I covered in Creating Chaos are still in play, and to harp on the fact the Putin is relentless. He has a coherent strategy, he pursues it obsessively, and he will never give up another former Soviet republic to a color revolution. 

5 responses »

  1. AnthonyM says:

    Yes, agree with your analysis on Belarus. On the question of media coverage it’s been noticeable how limited coverage of wider current affaires has been here in the UK during the pandemic compared to previously, although Belarus has had some coverage (and quite a lot recently). Sounds like we are still getting more coverage of that sort of thing than the U.S.A.
    On another matter it sounds like the U.S. is about to head into a disputed election with the administration deliberately undermining postal voting. This is a staggeringly dangerous loose-loose situation from the point of view of American democracy. If the aim was to reduce the moral authority of the US compared to China and Russia the administration couldn’t be doing a better job.

  2. larryjoe2 says:

    Its back to the creating chaos tactic, once you successfully launch it, as Russia did in 2016, it feeds on itself without all that much reinforcement – which of course is what’s going on now. And once you convince a significant number of people that facts are merely opinions and that no news can be trusted then you have made reality fluid – it doesn’t get more dangerous than that. That has always been the context in which autocrats, dictators and single party governments have developed – hopefully we can avoid that, but if the Pandemic doesn’t teach us science and facts are real, well it won’t be pretty.

    As far as losing moral influence, I think its worse than that. Our decades of Cold War covert invention already cost us the moral high ground – but at least we had some reputation for being consistent and predictable, especially in Europe and in the Pacific region. Now Trump’s shoot from the hip national security moves have brought that element of our foreign policy seriously into question, his most recent shift of forces from Germany being a prime example – although his inability to forge a Pacific balance against China is probably more of a strategic failure.

    On the other hand, if nothing else this shows you how rapidly even a major global power can unravel in something like three years or so. It sort of reminds me of the Soviet Union. Of course if anyone learned something from that experience, it certainly was Vladimir Putin.

    • AnthonyM says:

      On the plus side we can at least have this conversation without worrying about getting polonium in our coffee. In one sense politicians have always lied and officials have always been concerned about a gullible public (e.g. the Robertson panel and internal CIA discussions in the run up to that). It does seem to have reached a new level though…What I haven’t got my head around is if there is some deeper theory of managing public opinion (or particular segments of opinion) through this sort of fantasy world view or if it’s all totally cynical ultra short term opportunism (or total insanity).
      One perspective could be that as both main parties largely serve the interests of their major donors the rest is a way of distracting the masses from their misery and getting them all emotional. That doesn’t quite work fully with the current situation (sheer incompetence comes into play, plus a large dose or narcissism in POTUS) but it may be a factor, would you think?

  3. larryjoe2 says:

    My guess is that its more like short term opportunism – carried to the point of virtual insanity – with no thought about longer term consequences. Very much like Trump’s retweets…or like gerrymandering voting districts in the US to keep your party in power regardless of the larger democratic process and changing nature of the actual voter demographics.

    Still, the point I was really trying to make, is that Putin plays a long game, tactically pragmatic, but relentlessly consistent. In return American geopolitics and even military spending is much more reactive. Of course Putin is also able to pull it off by essentially making himself president for life. While not good for many reasons, that lends a remarkable consistency in Russian engagement, year after year.

  4. larryjoe2 says:

    For a bit more detail on exactly how relentless Putin is the following story provides and update on events in Belarussia, the behavior of its leader and the ways in which Putin will maintain him in power. It should also be noted that Britain and France both contacted Putin and requested that he attempt a reconciliation effort or move to broker some sort of compromise. His response was that it was strictly an matter of domestic politics and he would not think of involving himself or Russia.

    https://www.thedrive.com/the-war-zone/35942/embattled-belarus-despot-totes-an-ak-while-flying-to-his-palace-in-a-luxurious-mi-8

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