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