20 Years of Leading Analysis

The “Besieged Fortress” Virus

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The Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has every right to claim the mantle of the deftest and most efficient tactician among the post-Soviet authoritarian leaders and dictators. For a while, it seemed that this title should belong to the Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev. President Vladimir Putin definitely does not fit into this category. He is more skilled at working with a sledge-hammer. Were it not for all the nuclear weapons and natural gas that he commands, I cannot imagine how he would be capable of even simple foreign policy designs.

Shevtsova chaired the Russian Domestic Politics and Political Institutions Program at the Carnegie Moscow Center, dividing her time between Carnegie’s offices in Washington, DC, and Moscow. She had been with Carnegie since 1995.
Lilia Shevtsova
Senior Associate
Russian Domestic Politics and Political Institutions Program
Moscow Center
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In contrast, Lukashenko has perfected the skill of survival on limited resources. He demonstrates an amazing ability to milk Russia while putting on an air of an independent leader. Moscow clearly can’t stand him, but it can’t say no to him either. Lukashenko has tried to maneuver between Russia and Europe numerous times, and successfully so. Belarus is the only country that actually stands to gain from its membership in the Customs Union, while Russia and Kazakhstan only suffer economic losses. Lukashenko manages to avoid supporting the Kremlin when the Kremlin needs it most. For instance, it did not support the “independence” of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, all the pressure from the Kremlin notwithstanding. True, Belarus voted against the General Assembly resolution supporting the Ukrainian territorial integrity, apparently, getting a nice reward.

However, now Lukashenko openly refrained from supporting the Russian annexation of Crimea. Moreover, he took advantage of the annexation by borrowing Putin’s survival paradigm. He is creating a besieged fortress and mobilizing the Belarusians to fight for their independence! Look at what he said. “We are not aggressors; we do not want to go to war with anyone. But if someone starts with us, we must be ready to inflict unacceptable damage on this aggressor. It is a purely defense doctrine… We have to keep our armed forces on alert in order to avoid the sad fate of our Ukrainian brothers.”

In short, Lukashenko will be bracing himself for defending Belarus from potential Russian aggression. At the same time, he is not about to reject Moscow’s financial assistance. Besides, Lukashenko’s willingness to oppose the Kremlin’s aggressive designs is supported in Europe, which has long been trying to start dialogue with the continent’s “last dictator.” As for Moscow, it will have to open up its purse and buy off Lukashenko lest he expands on his plans to create “defenses” against Russia.

In any event, a paradoxical situation emerges: one of the Customs Union and future Eurasian Union members is going to defend itself against the leader and financial engine of this Union, that is Russia. So how strong can this union be?

It is quite possible that generally more restrained Nazarbayev will follow Lukashenko’s example and start creating his own “besieged fortress” model. After all, Kazakhstan must treat Putin’s doctrine of supporting Russian speakers abroad as a direct threat. In other words, the besieged fortress virus may prove to be contagious.

What we are witnessing today illustrates the Law of Unintended Consequences that Putin set in motion. In this case, instead of getting what he was looking for, Putin wound up with a somewhat unexpected situation.


Comments (2)

  • Julie Leighton
    Lukashenko’s “besieged fortress” complex is demonstrated by his calls for Belorussian military stockpiling and his overtures to the Ukrainian defense industry.

    According to the Voice of Russia, while visiting the 558th Aviation Repair Plant in Baranovichi, the Belorussian president said: “Today Ukraine has effectively fallen apart. But its defense industry is quite good. Let us try to agree with Ukrainians and work together so they don't lose their brain centers, be it intellectual, engineering or design, and production proper.”

    This is all part of a larger plan to increase Belorussian aircraft production.

    BelTA reports that during the Baranovichi visit, Lukashenko declared that Belarus needed to begin producing helicopters and airplanes that could be used both domestically and for export, particularly to Russia. Although Belarus is not currently capable of producing an aircraft made solely of Belorussian technology, he would like to cooperate with neighboring states to advance the industry.

    Essentially, Lukashenko is hoping to manipulate the geopolitical situation to access as much discounted technology as possible. In the name of a helping hand, he is hoping to gain Ukrainian resources--ostensibly this kind of technology sharing could save the Ukrainian defence industry. In the name of future commercial partnership, he is hoping to access Russian resources. Once given the technology, it will be very easy to reproduce. The combination of these two things will allow Belarus to produce its own civilian and military aircraft.

    By carefully constructing a “besieged fortress” mentality, Lukashenko is setting himself up to be one of the key beneficiaries of Russian aggression and the current tensions.
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  • LG
    Is this article for real? Lukashenko's comments are directed at the West and NATO specifically. He is referring to the machinations of the West which led to the ouster of Yanukovich and now the implosion of Ukrainian sovereignty, not to protecting Belarus from Russia. Belarus can not survive without Russia, this is a geopolitical reality. It is difficult to take the author seriously when she pens such drivel.
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