Does the Kremlin want to annex Belarus?
An internal Kremlin strategy paper available to WDR, NDR and SZ describes in detail Moscow's plans for a creeping takeover of neighboring Belarus. Western security circles consider the paper to be authentic.
Alexander Lukashenko traveled to Moscow last Friday. In front of the cameras, Russian President Vladimir Putin thanked the Belarusian head of state for his visit. He in turn replied with a grin: “As if I couldn’t have agreed.”
Lukashenko is always rebellious against the rulers in the Kremlin. The despot of Minsk is now more dependent on Putin than ever before. When hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets against him in 2020, he was only able to stay in office with the help of Moscow. But Russia may have much more far-reaching plans for Belarus, namely making the western neighbor a vassal state.
At least that is what emerges from a document that is said to have come from the Russian presidential administration and that was able to evaluate an international research cooperation, which, in addition to WDR, NDR and “Süddeutsche Zeitung”, also included Yahoo News, Delfi Estonia, Kyiv Independent, Expressen, Frontstory.pl, VSQuare, Belarusian Investigative Center and the Dossier Center are owned. The internal strategy paper, which has not yet been made public, is said to date from the summer of 2021 and is 17 pages long.
Gradual takeover of control
It outlines the plan for a gradual annexation of the previously independent European nation of Belarus by Russia. And with political, economic and military means. It describes in detail how Russia could gradually gain control of Belarus. With the ultimate goal of creating a so-called Union State – by 2030 at the latest.
The plan for a “union state” has existed since 1999, but it was not known how far-reaching these plans on the part of Russia should go. So far, the topic of the “Union State” has always been communicated as a merger in the interest of both parties. The paper is now only about the primacy of Russian interests.
Puppet of Moscow
The strategy paper clearly states what the purpose is: to “ensure the dominant influence of the Russian Federation in the areas of society, politics, trade, economy, science, education, culture and information”. Western influence should be pushed back and a bulwark against NATO created. The constitutional reform, which was decided in February 2022, is also to be completed according to Russian conditions. Pro-Russian elites are also to be installed in business, research and civil society.
The document also reveals that Russia appears to want to expand its military presence in Belarus. A joint command system for the armed forces is to be created. In addition, the Belarusian nuclear power plant is to be integrated into the power grid of the newly created “Union State”. Cargo ships with goods from or for Belarus should not call at Baltic or Polish ports, but only at Russian ports. In addition, Russian schools and universities are to be built in Belarus and Belarusian children are to be sent to patriotic centers in Russia for training.
“Russia’s goal is to turn Belarus into a puppet, to tie it so closely to itself that under any government or president, even after Lukashenko’s departure, Belarus would remain in the sphere of Russia’s geopolitical control,” says the Belarusian Political scientist and historian Valery Karbalevich. However, a merger of the two states would end “the existence of Belarus as an independent state”.
Greater Russia as a destination
The internal strategy paper is believed to have come from a sub-department of Russia’s presidential administration, the Cross-Border Cooperation Directorate, which was established five years ago. The task of this area should be to develop strategies for how Russia can expand its influence and control over its neighboring countries. About the Baltic States, the Ukraine – or Belarus.
Several sources in Western intelligence consider the document to be authentic and plausible. The strategy must be seen as part of a larger plan – to create a so-called Greater Russia.
The document is divided into two sections. First, Russia’s strategic goals in Belarus are listed, namely short-term until 2022, medium-term until 2025 and long-term until 2030. The goals are in turn divided into four areas: political, military and defense sector, the social sector and economy and trade. The document then describes the risks associated with the objectives. It should be clear to the Kremlin that, given the course of the Ukraine war, not all of the short-term intentions are currently realistic.
According to Western intelligence services, however, the overall plan is not obsolete. The Kremlin paper, for example, proposes a simplified procedure for issuing Russian passports to Belarusian citizens. A strategy that has already been implemented elsewhere, for example in eastern Ukraine or in the Abkhazia region separating from Georgia, in order to expand Moscow’s influence and undermine the national sovereignty of states.
Russian military in Belarus
According to the paper, the expansion of the Russian military presence in Belarus is also being sought. Much of this has already been realized in the course of the war against Ukraine. The ruler Lukashenko had always tried to prevent a permanent presence of Russian troops on Belarusian soil. But since October 2022, thousands of Russian soldiers have been in Belarus, some of whom are being trained there. The armed forces of Belarus and Russia practice jointly coordinated warfare.
Economically, too, the influence actually continues to grow. Belarus has always been dependent on Russia. However, according to expert estimates, up to two-thirds of Belarusian exports could soon go to Russia. Belarus has also lost many trading partners due to international isolation and sanctions.
The development in the media sector is particularly striking. Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, Belarusian propaganda has been fully in line with that of Russia. State media are spreading hatred of Ukraine and fueling the image of the “warmongering West”.
Lukashenko’s fight against the Belarusian language and culture also benefits Russian plans. Anyone who gives a city tour in Belarusian is already risking at least one arrest. The Belarusian language is disappearing more and more from everyday life. That seems to be in line with the Kremlin’s intentions. According to the internal strategy paper, the aim is for the Russian language to have ousted Belarusian from official use by 2030.
The Belarusian historian Valey Karbalevich currently considers a quick merger of his country with Russia to be rather unlikely. “I don’t think Lukashenko will decide to do that, despite all his dependence on Russia. Belarusian society is not ready for unification either,” Karbalevich said. “All institutions are designed to function like those of an independent state.”
In fact, the rulers in Minsk are unlikely to have much interest in the Kremlin’s plan being fully implemented. According to Western intelligence circles, the two men still do not trust each other. On the contrary: Everyone waits until the other dies.
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