Will Putin Take Advantage of Conflict With Kim to “Liberate” Belorussia?
Russian propaganda poster: “Tank tours over Europe. Diesel fuel is ours…”
This article serves as a warning. We fear Vladimir Putin may take advantage of our Washington disarray, the natural catastrophe of Harvey, likely Irma, and the warlike scenario emerging in North Korea. He may use the coming Zapad [West] maneuvers to launch a military intervention with his Little Green Men in Belorussia as he did in Crimea and then in eastern Ukraine three years ago. We predicted the invasion of the Crimea a day before it happened, and U.S. intelligence has already learned some of the Little Green Men are among Russian elite forces assembled at the Russian-Belorussian borders.
Ominously, Latvia has noticed campaigns on Russian social media and television that are bringing examples of history, as they did with the Crimea and eastern Ukraine, to question the separate existence Latvia, but also Lithuania from Russia. They are also claiming the country is denying full citizenship rights to ethnic Russians, a large minority of which are particularly in Latvia but also Estonia.
According to Vladimir Zhirinovsky, a leading Russian nationalist, the eastern part of Lithuania should be part of Belorussia and the western part connected to Russia. (Please notice that prior to the invasion of Crimea, Zhirinovsky was leading the nationalist propaganda for the “liberation” of Crimea in 2014.)
These writers have always recommended a strategic partnership with Russia against terrorism when feasible; read us in The National Interest. As we have shown in our monograph, Washington and Moscow; Confrontation or Cooperation, published by the BESA Center for Strategic Studies, Bar Ilan University, Tel Aviv, Israel, such a partnership existed in 2001 when our new president, George “W” Bush struck up a friendship with new Russian president Vladimir Putin. Russia was of great help to us in our post-9/11 invasion of Afghanistan.
But tough deterrence with Russia has also at times been necessary. We were among the first (April 2014) to advocate U.S. defensive arms for Kyiv (Kyiv Post with “Arm the Ukraine and Employ Energy Sanctions.” The Kyiv Post was the only paper that would publish our recommendation. We wrote another such recommendation for them a year later. Defensive arms for Kyiv s just now finally under serious consideration in Washington, along with a flurry of controversy. In Jiri’s interview by Alexander Motyl in The World Affairs Journal, he continue to recommend it, advocating a Swiss-Austrian model of armed neutrality for Ukraine without NATO membership,is the only possible guarantee for its full independence. As far as we know, we were the first to propose that we needed to get rid of Barack Obama’s concept of strategic patience, in our article, “Divining Putin’s Intentions; Why we Must Lose ‘strategic patience!’” first published in the Aspen Review; but also in the Euromaidan Press, 10/2015. Trump seems to be doing so.
As we demonstrated in Jiri'a books, Soviet Intervention in Czechoslovakia, 1968, Anatomy of a Decision, 1991, Soviet Decision-making for National Security, 1984, and other articles on Russia’s national security and decision-making under Vladimir Putin, the outcome of Russian processes are pre-determined, above all, by the Kremlin anticipation of the U.S. response. This has held true for Eastern Europe, but also the Middle East. See our article in the Middle East Quarterly,“Why Putin wants Syria, ” Spring, 2016, Vol. 23 No. 2. We believed if Obama was still in office, Putin’s liberation of Belorussian would have been more likely by now than with Trump.
Nevertheless, we are currently preoccupied with North Korea, as well as other burning issues with Afghanistan, Syria and possibly Venezuela. As the Zapad [West] maneuvers should be starting very soon, Trump must communicate to Putin that he, unlike Obama, will respond to intervention in Belorussia. A sharp calculator of national interest , Putin must be made to conclude that intervention in Belorussia would be too costly for him. It would introduce more sanctions.
We also foresee that we will not have any choice but to provide Ukraine with defensive weapons and significantly build up our forces in the Baltic States and Poland.
Putin must understand that a real return to the Cold War is not in his interests or ours. In fact, we should indicate carrots to him as well. His reward for non-intervention in Belorussia could be easing the sanctions and a return to rapprochement, a policy favored by these writers. Moreover, if we show resolve with North Korea, it could be the best preventive policy for checking Putin’s ambitions in Belorussia and elsewhere. And let’s not forget Iran.
For more on Russia’s strategy in the Baltics and Russo-Baltics history, read our just published, comprehensive article, “Russia’s Strategic Advantage in the Baltics; A Challenge to NATO?” in the Geostrategic Maritime Review, (Paris), No. 8, Strategic Baltic Sea, Spring/Summer 2017, pp. 33-66, available at Amazon.
Our conclusion; in spite of the strategic advantage that Russia has in the Baltic region, is that the NATO membership of the Baltic States and U.S. and British trip wire forces, would most likely prevent direct invasions. However, one cannot exclude some sort of hybrid intervention in Belorussia either during or shortly after the Zapad maneuvers, particularly if there is a hardening of the U.S. posture towards North Korea. Then, like in 1956 during the Suez crisis, when Nikita Khrushchev, after a lot of hesitation, intervened in Hungary, and like in 1968 when the U.S. was entangled in Vietnam quagmire, and Leonid Brezhnev invaded Czechoslovakia, it is necessary for us this time, to prepare a preventive strategy for Belorussia. We must make intervention unappetizing.
We must also use preventive diplomacy not only through our trip wire deployments in the Baltics and large deployments in Poland, but by working with our Baltic allies to make concessions to the large Russian minorities in Latvia and Estonia on citizenship and linguistic issues. It might also be politic to declare that Belorussia should remain a neutral country and not be admitted as a NATO member. Our preventive diplomacy can make a difference.