Russia needs to redesign its foreign relations strategy, contemplating the possibility of cultivating ties with the opposition inside pro-Russian post-Soviet countries, and not only with their governments, in order to be better adapted to the inevitable changes that occur in politics, which take a cyclic form. If it fails to channel those opposition forces to its own interests, then NATO will occupy this vacuum and further surround Russia with enemy states.
These lines are the product of a conversation I had with Andrew Korybko on his Facebook page on August 11, 2020, in a post about the recent elections in Belarus. So, part of the credit must go to him because I incorporate some of his thoughts into them.
From a pro-Soviet perspective, but also from a non-aligned perspective, the end of the Cold War in 1991 was a geopolitical catastrophe that realigned almost the entire world under NATO’s hegemony.
Since then, the US and its increasing number of satellites have been trying to put the post-Soviet space more firmly under their grip by promoting the infamous “color revolutions” in post-Soviet countries and even exporting the model to countries elsewhere.
The “Rose Revolution” of 2003 in Georgia, the “Orange Revolution” of 2004 in Ukraine, the “Tulip Revolution” of 2005 in Kyrgyzstan, and finally the “Euro-Maidan” revolution of 2014, again in Ukraine, were all geopolitical moves with the aim of realigning those post-Soviet nations more firmly with NATO, with a high degree of success in the cases of Georgia and Ukraine.
Russia under Putin has been trying all this time to counter those attempts by sustaining and supporting the very governments against which the pro-NATO axis has been conspiring, adopting a purely “conservative” and “counterrevolutionary” approach for the post-Soviet space.
It has done so for rightful motives. First off, because those post-Soviet governments aren’t as authoritarian, dictatorial, and oppressive as the pro-NATO press and propaganda have painted them. Second, because the pro-NATO axis really has no business meddling in those countries’ affairs. Third, because those countries happen to be in the immediate vicinity of Russia, having been historically part of the Russian Empire and then the Soviet Union until its breakup in 1991, and thus having been historically and geographically under the Russian sphere of influence.
One of those post-Soviet governments that Russia has backed in the past against “color revolution” attempts is Belarus under Lukashenko.
The relationship with Belarus is especially close and especially important for Russia, due to its location. If Belarus fell under NATO’s hegemony, that would mean that the last post-Soviet European country neighboring Russia would now be an enemy country, possibly even hosting part of NATO’s anti-missile system so close to Russia that it would break the strategic balance in the event of a nuclear war.
Belarus is a member of the CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States), the EEU (Eurasian Economic Union), and the CSTO (Collective Security Treaty Organization), all organizations which bring those former Soviet states more closely aligned with Russia together in diplomatic, economic, and military/security terms, respectively. But on top of that, Belarus alsois also part of the “Union State” with Russia, which is a sort of loose confederation between the two countries.
So, the relationship between Russia and Lukashenko’s Belarus is especially close, despite all the flirtation that has been going on lately between Lukashenko and the pro-NATO axis, which we won’t discuss here.
And yet, we might ask ourselves a question: Is it really advantageous for Russia to support governments like that of Lukashenko?
There seems to be a kind of “trap” regarding Russian relations with post-Soviet states and Russian relations with NATO. Russia sees itself forced to support or “preserve” post-Soviet governments that are allied to her from foreign attempts at destabilization. And NATO feels compelled, for its own reasons, to try to destabilize those governments for its own geopolitical profit. And the positions of either seem to be inevitable. But is there a way that things could be different? Putting aside the possibility that NATO simply stops in its destabilization attempts, the other possibility is that Russia stops supporting those governments.
Now, halting support for those governments would seem to be geopolitical suicide because what’s then stopping NATO from encircling Russia with their own satellite states and weapons? Russia seems to be forced to do the opposite.
But there’s a bigger problem. Governments naturally tend to fall, whether good or bad. All regimes must come to an end eventually, that’s the cycle of history. And if they are being destabilized with a consistent effort from the outside, with more reason they are doomed to fall sooner or later. And with even more reason if they don’t have the full support of the populace, for whatever motives.
So, if Russia keeps supporting those governments, there’s the risk that it will not only lose allies when they fall, but will also win more enemies when that occurs. When those governments fall, the regimes that succeed them see themselves thus naturally inclined to abhor Russia and ally themselves with her enemies, in a kind of “throw the baby out with the bath water” situation.
“Color revolutions” are an example of blatant NATO meddling in other countries, but they also have internal causes that might be initially legitimate. Foreign meddling is just exploiting to its advantage the intrinsic defects of those governments. The populace inside those nations might have legitimate grievances against their rulers. For example, while they are certainly not brutal like some of the dictatorships supported by NATO during the Cold War, those governments are also certainly authoritarian in nature: they restrict the freedoms of expression, assembly, and political rights of the opposition. The opposition is not always composed of “good people”, but that’s not the issue. The issue is that, “good” or “bad”, they will naturally seek outside support for their cause, and if there’s no one other than NATO to channel those forces, then those forces will align themselves with NATO for sure.
So, what can Russia do to avoid this situation? The answer is that it can diversify its network of alliances inside post-Soviet countries, in order to better adapt itself to possible political changes in those countries. It should cultivate relations with both government and opposition forces rather than using a purely “conservative” approach and siding with the governments.
In the case of Belarus, what we have is an increasingly unsustainable situation because Lukashenko will not be eternal and he also seems to be somewhat out of touch with reality. His only plan for the political continuity of his government is to be succeeded by his younger son.
So, what will Russia do in the face of this situation? Will it still play all of its cards on Lukashenko, or will it embrace the reality of the situation and start looking for an alternative?
It seems that they are becoming increasingly aware of the situation and are starting to drift away from Lukashenko, considering the treatment that the Russian media have been giving to the latest unrest in Belarus after the 2020 presidential election. So, that’s a promising sign.
So, to summarize: Russia needs to redesign its foreign relations strategy, contemplating the possibility of cultivating ties with the opposition inside pro-Russian post-Soviet countries, and not only with their governments, in order to be better adapted to the inevitable changes that occur in politics, which take a cyclic form. If it fails to channel those opposition forces to its own interests, then NATO will occupy this vacuum and further surround Russia with enemy states.
The example of Armenia in 2018, where Russia didn’t mobilize to back the decadent government of Sargsyan against the Pashinyan-led color revolution, letting events unfold instead, and thus gaining an ally in Pashinyan when he reached the government, could be an indication of the form in which Russia could approach the nasty “revolutions” in the future. That doesn’t mean surrendering and giving away everything in exchange for nothing, in a Gorbachovian style, but adopting a more intelligent strategy. A good combination of the “counterrevolutionary” approach when it’s fair, and the “pro-revolutionary” one when it’s convenient, could yield greater benefits than just backing decadent governments.
Contributed By Hernan Saccomanno.