For Vladimir Putin, Belarus is “the key to the Baltic countries” as a military-strategic outpost and thus quite possibly Minsk will turn out to be “much more important for the Russian system than Ukraine is, according to Liliya Shevtsova, a Russian commentator now at the Brookings Institution.
In an interview to Belaruspartisan.org, she points out that Putin “does not have any sympathy for Aleksandr Lukashenka,” because the Belarusian leader’s independent poses constantly force Moscow to give him more help. The Eurasian Union in reality provides help to Lukashenka and Moscow and Kazakhstan only “lose”.
But Putin and those around him feel they have no choice but to do so because of the importance of Belarus as a transit route to the West – one far more important than Ukraine – and as a place from which it can put pressure on the Baltic countries. Without Minsk in its corner, Moscow would find that very difficult to do.
Shevtsova adds that what Moscow is doing in Ukraine now is an effort to intimidate Belarus and keep it in line by reminding Lukashenka that the same thing could happen to him if he is not careful. But at the same time, she says, “Russia and the Kremlin are completely uninterested in territorial acquisitions.”
Moscow does not want to assume the burdens that would be involved in the absorption of new territories within its own borders, she suggests. It simply wants to show that it can take such actions and then force those against whom such actions are directed to pay the bill – or to get others in the West to do so.
Crimea is the exception which proved the rule. From Moscow’s point of view, Crimea “always was Soviet Russian.” Its annexation simply codified what those in the Russian capital believed was in fact already the case. But even its absorption has proved to be extremely expensive. Moscow doesn’t need or want more such burdens, Shevtsova says.