RIGA - Mass protests against the regime of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko did not bring down the dictator, but saved Belarus from being forcibly incorporated into Russia, said Vladimir Milov, a Russian opposition politician, vice-president of the Free Russia Foundation and adviser to Russian imprisoned opposition politician Alexei Navalny, in an interview with LETA during the Riga Conference.
"It is simple - after the 2022 protests, [Russian President Vladimir] Putin realized that if he came there, he would face an unfriendly population who wanted neither his army, nor annexation. I believe that the protests in Belarus three years ago saved the country from annexation. Putin would have gone there if he had not seen the whole country rising up and not wanting the Russian occupation," the politician said.
Milov also believes that Putin is not announcing a second wave of mobilization in Russia in fear of the reaction of the Russian society. "This shows that people's opinion does matter. Putin wants to take the path of the least resistance", said Milov.
The Russian oppositionist said that Russian politicians in exile work closely with Belarusian oppositionists.
"We talk to them a lot and meet them in different forums, and many of them are in Vilnius, where Aleksei Navalny's whole team lives. We have a long history of cooperation. Of course we want to see them as a free, sovereign democratic country. And that will certainly happen," he stressed.
On the desire for self-determination of Russia's minorities, Milov advised not to confuse the issue with speculations about a possible break-up of Russia.
"When the Soviet Union broke up, it was 50 percent Russian, and there was no Soviet republic with Russians in the majority. Now Russia is 81 percent Russian. But the national minorities that have their own republics are less than 15 percent in terms of population and even less in terms of territory. Even if all these republics were to secede, this would not necessarily mean a break-up of Russia," the politician pointed out.
"If you try to pull Russian-populated regions apart, they will start to attract each other - we only had different Russian states 100 years ago when the civil war was raging. Such a separation could be a bloody and unpleasant process. And the idea that these Russian states will then try to deal with each other and not attack their neighbors is also an illusion. When Russia split into several states fighting each other during the civil war, it did not lead them to stop attacking each other. On the contrary, they did it later with even more vigor and created the Soviet Union with force and blood," said the Russian oppositionist.
Asked what exactly are the so-called red lines for the Russian people that would make the reins snap, Milov stressed that when it comes to Russian society, the key word is inertia.
"Everything happens very slowly. People are not ready to take rapid actions. For several hundred of years there have been repressive systems that ruthlessly suppress any expression. People are afraid and their genetic memory tells them that it is better not to argue with their superiors. That is why everything happens very slowly and the majority chooses the path of non-engagement. However, the process of changing public consciousness is underway," Milov explained.
He said that there are three different parts of Russian society - one is rather loyal to the authorities and this centralized state system, the other is strongly against it and would prefer a European-style democracy, and the third is like a kind of middle swamp - these people just want to be left alone. "The tendency is very clear - people from this swamp group are becoming dissatisfied and gradually moving to the other two camps, while people who support the government are starting to grumble and move to one of the other camps. It's like the current is flowing in our direction," Milov said.
The politician pointed out that support for the war in Russia was at 53 percent at the beginning of the war, but now stands at 38-40 percent, with 51 percent in favor of peace talks rather than continued hostilities.
"The trend is obvious, but unfortunately it is slow. But in Russia nothing happens quickly. We are trying with all our might to turn the wheel faster", Milov said.
He agrees that the best way to bring this change closer is to help Ukraine win the war.
"Without any doubt. Supporting Ukraine is of course very important, because Ukraine is doing as much damage to Putin's regime as anybody. They also have a just and right cause - they are defending themselves, their lives, their right to exist, their land. Sanctions are working, but this pressure must be stepped up, because there is still much that can be done. We are also trying to do our part and influence public opinion in Russia, thereby reducing support to Putin," said Milov.