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Материал также доступен на русском языке: Ошибки Запада. Что Брюссель и Вашингтон делают не так в ситуации с Беларусью.

The EU took three good steps vis-à-vis Belarus by refusing to recognize the results of the presidential elections, sanctioning Belarussian officials and releasing more than 50 million euros of aid to people of Belarus. However, these sanctions are not enough. They are good but they are somewhat insufficient. I was disappointed that Lithuania’s and Poland’s request for the EU statement calling for new elections in Belarus did not meet with approval of other members. What’s more democratic than free and fair elections? I think that sanctions against individuals in Belarus are are also appropriate but also not insufficient. The EU should say very clear that it is unacceptable for the Kremlin to intervene in Belarus. It would have been inappropriate though to recognize Svetlana Tikhanovskaya as the new president. The EU simply does not have the ballots to show that this is the case. I can easily believe the elections were rigged and Lukashenko did not get 80 per cent of the vote. But we do not have evidence that she won, only speculation. That is why I think it would be better to have a re-run of the presidential elections in Belarus with proper international observation mechanisms.

I am also disappointed if, as Belorussian opposition said, the US government took a decisionto to refrain from sending an ambassador to Minsk. The US mission in Belarus is without ambassador for 12 years now. I understand the motive of isolating Lukashenko diplomatically which both Republican and Democratic administrations cited but the decision to send an ambassador taken just before Belarus elections was to me the right one. And now with the political crisis developing it is very important to have an official US presence and voice in Minsk. Sending an ambassador is not equivalent to recognising what the Lukashenko regime does to its own people.

Western diplomatic presence in Belarus is additionally important because Lukashenko talks all the time about the so called «NATO threat» to Belarus. He that claims NATO forces are concentrated on the Lithuanian border. This is simply not true – there is nothing but normal activity there. The narrative that there is an alliance build-up threatening Belarus is totally false.

Belarussian military exercises in Ostrovets near the Lithuanian border, where the nuclear power plant, newly built by Russia, is located are perpetuating this fake narrative of NATO «threat». In normal circumstances a normal civilian leader would cancel such exercises to prevent possible misunderstandings or event incidents. Particularly in the city where there is a nuclear facility and where safety concerns are highest, especially to Lithuanians, whose capital Vilnius is only 30 km from Ostrovets. Heightening tensions instead of calming them seems like a deliberate ploy by Lukashenko.

Another cause for concern is Moscow’s attitude to what happens in Minsk and elsewhere in Belarus. Many Russia watchers are wondering if Putin’s military intervention is still possible. I don`t believe at this point that it is likely. I think the Kremlin will intervene if it looks like somebody pro-Western would emerge to replace Lukashenko and this somebody will attempt to pull Belarus closer to the West. No doubt they in Moscow are examining all the different tools that they have and all forms of leverage they may use but I do not think we are going to see convoys of Russian soldiers going into Belarus right now. Also, the military of Belarus is so closely connected to the Russians that probably there is no need for it at least yet. However I am also confident that the Kremlin took all necessary precautions and made all necessary preparations to move quickly into Belarus should it eventually decide to do.

British professor and famous strategist Julian Lindley-French calls the way the Russians conduct their military operations the “Five D’s Warfare". The D’s are – deception, disruption, disinformation, destabilisation and destruction. I would imagine that movement of Russian convoys close to Belarussian border that we have seen on social media may be part of real preparations for moving into Belarus. But I am convinced that these movements were also intended to be seen so it is in the minds of the people that Russia has a capcity and agility to enter Belarus very quickly. So there are also elements of deception and destabilisation efforts here.

Some experts today suggest that Moscow may be looking even at an operation, albeit a limited one, against NATO members Lithuania or Poland. I think the Kremlin does not want to get into such a situation. If it saw a threat to the transport corridor that connects Kaliningrad oblast with Belarus via Lithuania that would be a different issue. But at this point if NATO and the EU stick together the risk of the Kremlin doing something like that seems unlikely. However what NATO should do in these circumstances is to make it abundantly clear that it will stand firmly and unequivocally with its allies in the region, like Lithuania and Poland.

I don`t see any possibility of NATO intervening in Belarus either, even if Russia invades it. Statements will be made and NATO would of course be prepared to protect Lithuania or Latvia or Poland, but NATO countries' armed forces will not intervene. It takes all 30 Members of the Alliance to agree to do anything. I am certain that we would not get 30 nations to consent to this since Belarus is not a NATO member and Article 5 of the North-Atlantic Treatty does not apply to it.

Moreover the Alliance itself would be very reluctant not only to intervene in Belarus but even to reach out to Minsk with offers of cooperation, for example, exercises, as it does with its partners like Ukraine, Georgia, Serbia, Sweden or Finland. Membaers like Germany, France and Italy will not support anything that would look like a NATO outreach to Belarus - because of the very sharp reaction from the Kremlin which is bound to follow. Belarus is in a different category from Ukraine or Georgia. Ukraine wanted to be in the EU, Georgia wanted to be in NATO. But there does not seem to be a significant pro-Western opposition in Belarus. They do not like Lukashenko, they want their sovereignty but this does not mean they want to get away from Russia and the Kremlin.

What the US and the Europe should definitely do is invest in Belarus, even simply because there is Chinese and Russian competition there. Certainly, it is appropriate to offer Belarus alternative energy options like LNG as well as help to develop its IT-sector which has a big potential. The West should also invite Belarus to participate in the «E40 project» to build a canal between the Baltic and the Black Sea. A significant part of its route will pass through Belarus. Finally, we should be supporting anything that would stop the Ostrovets nuclear power plant project. I think it is a potential new Chernobyl. There is no guarantee that Russia’s Rosatom will operate it safely. It was the EU’s huge mistake to let this station be built.

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