In an interview for The Russian Monitor, Olivier Védrine, Board Member of New Europeans, commented on the events taking place in Belarus and the likely outcome of Putin's decision to rescue Alexandre Loukachenko by military means.
The Russian Monitor is one of the leading Russian based news sites opposing the Putin régime. The original interview is republished here by kind permission.
How do you assess the situation in Belarus?
The fact that protests in Minsk do not subside for a whole week in a row, as well as the Kremlin's significant silence, speaks volumes.
Every day, despite the fierce opposition of the security forces, tens of thousands of people take to the streets, enterprises go on strike, and even employees of propaganda media are fired.
I was amazed by how workers at a large plant in Minsk, people who Loukachenko sees as his core supporters, greeted him with whistles and shouts of “go away”. I think that Alexandre Loukachenko, who hoped the protests would subside, now realizes his power is coming to an end.
How expected was the Belarusian crisis?
It was expected that Loukachenko was preparing to falsify the elections, and in case of protests, suppress them by force. What makes this crisis unexpected is its scale. Nobody foresaw this, least of all Loukachenko himself.
What is happening in Belarus reminds me of what happened in Poland in the 80s with the Solidarity movement - mass strikes and demonstrations throughout the country . The fact that today Loukachenko 's rival Svetlana Tikhanovskaya announced that she is ready to become a national leader before the new elections seems to me to be an important step in the right direction.
Why have Western leaders still not recognized Svetlana Tikhanovskaya as the elected president?
They do not know Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, they are only now finding out abou her. They could not have imagined such large-scale protests following the elections. The EU for its part, ordered the imposition of sanctions against Belarusian officials related to electoral fraud and repression, and the European Parliament called Lukashenko persona non grata . This is a movement in the right direction, but, in my opinion, this is no longer enough.
Why is the West's reaction to the atrocities of the Alexandre Loukachenko regime so sluggish?
As I wrote, the EU for its part, ordered the introduction of sanctions against Belarusian officials related to falsification of elections and repression.
Unfortunately, this is not enough and there will be no concrete results. In addition, in my opinion, they are waiting for Putin's reaction.
You must remember that many leaders in the West are ready to restore relations with Putin, and this crisis in Belarus runs counter to their plans.
So now everyone is waiting for Putin to help Alexandre Loukachenko to suppress the protests of Belarusians by force or not.
How likely is it that Putin will send troops to help Alexandre Loukachenko quell the protests?
On Sunday, the Kremlin said it is ready to provide military assistance if necessary, in line with the alliance between the two countries and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), which is made up of six former Soviet republics. Therefore, from my point of view, the likelihood of direct Russian intervention is extremely high, although this is suicidal for Putin.
If Russian military intervention does take place, can we expect that the collective West, once again, will declare its "deep concern", as it was during the Russian invasion of Georgia, Crimea, Donbass?
No doubt they will do the same, you do not expect them to declare war on Putin, so the results will be the same in the short term. However, as I said, in the end, for Moscow, the invasion of Putin's troops will turn into a disaster.
What consequences for Russia (economically, politically) can be expected if Putin annexes Belarus, as he did with Crimea; Will this increase his popularity among ordinary citizens of Russia, or, on the contrary, increase the growing discontent?
The coronavirus and low oil prices have already put the Russian economy at a dangerous level: over the past three months, GDP has fallen by about 40%.
The people are tired of Putin, who is in power only six years younger than Loukachenko .
Repeating the Crimean scenario, when, having annexed part of Ukrainian territory, Putin managed to spur his declining popularity, will no longer work. But the fact that the West will introduce new sanctions, including personal ones, (albeit very reluctantly, but politicians will have to do it under pressure from their voters) if Putin annexes Belarus - there is no doubt about it.
Russia will find itself in even greater isolation, perhaps this time they will apply to energy exports, Russian bonds. Disconnection of Russia from SWIFT also seems likely.
About Olivier Védrine
Olivier Védrine is a French political scientist and TV anchor one of the very few foreigners who having worked in Russia for many years now living in Ukraine.
He left Russia where he was the chief editor of the Russian version of the French National Defense Review, in protest at the annexation of Crimea in February 2014.
In 2018, he had his own English-language news show on Ukrainian television the “Western Voice with Olivier Vedrine” on Obozrevatel TV station, or Oboz.tv and since 2016 he is the Chief Editor of "Russian Monitor" (a newspaper of the Russian opposition).
He previously hosted “Weekly with Olivier Vedrine” on UA.TV and, before that, “UA Tea Time” on First National Channel with Sergiy Velichansky. He has presented more than 150 TV shows for free to support Ukraine.
For more information here is his Wikipedia page