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Policía polaca, en la frontera con Bielorrusia.

Polonia, Lituania y Letonia son, por este orden, los países agredidos. Bielorrusia, el ejecutor del ataque. Y Rusia, la más que probable cabeza pensante de una operación en la que inmigrantes traídos de Irak y Siria son la munición que emplea Minsk.

Ese es, a grandes rasgos, el reparto de papeles en la actual crisis en las fronteras orientales de la Unión Europea. Conviene tenerlo claro porque la situación diplomática, militar y humanitaria se complicará en los próximos días. Y cuanto más inconsistente y cacofónica sea la respuesta europea, mayor será el incentivo para que Bielorrusia aumente la presión fronteriza (y con ella el drama humanitario), y Rusia contemple la posibilidad de tensionar otros frentes como el ucraniano o el del suministro de gas a Europa.…  Seguir leyendo »

Service members from India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Armenia and Russia pose during joint Russian-Belarusian drills on the Mulino training ground in the Nizhny Novgorod region, Russia, on Sept. 9, in a photo made available by the Russian Defense Ministry. (EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

Vladimir Putin knows how to keep his enemies guessing. Will Western leaders ever catch on?

Russia is about to launch a huge military exercise within spitting distance of Europe. How many troops will be taking part exactly? What will they be doing? No one seems to know for sure — except the Russians themselves, and they’re sending conflicting signals.

The West has good reason to be concerned. This year’s version of the quadrennial Russian military exercise, known as Zapad 2021, takes place against an ominous background. In the spring, the Kremlin deployed large numbers of soldiers to areas close to Ukraine.…  Seguir leyendo »

Belarus president Aliaksandr Lukashenko and Russia president Vladimir Putin attend a ceremony together to unveil the Rzhev Memorial to the Soviet Soldier near the village of Khoroshevo, Russia. Photo by Mikhail Klimentyev\TASS via Getty Images.

On 9 August, the anniversary of last year’s fraudulent presidential elections in Belarus, the UK, the US, and Canada imposed sectoral sanctions on Belarus, targeting key exports such as potash and crude oil, and the UK closed its financial markets to Belarusian debt and securities.

President Aliaksandr Lukashenka responded by saying the UK could ‘choke on your sanctions’ which may seem an empty threat viewed from the safe distance of London but, for Belarus’ closest neighbours Lithuania, Poland and Latvia, the choking could become very real.

When the European Union (EU) imposed sanctions, Lukashenka responded by flying in waves of migrants from the Middle East and delivering them to the border to cross into the EU – a tactic last seen by Russia against Nordic states in 2015.…  Seguir leyendo »

Misiles tierra-aire en Gvardeysk, cerca de Kaliningrado, Russia, en 2019.Vitaly Nevar / Reuters

Hace 100 años, la región polaca de Pomerania, una estrecha franja de tierra al oeste de Polonia, separaba dos posesiones alemanas no colindantes: el territorio principal de la República de Weimar al oeste, y Prusia oriental, con su capital Königsberg. Suspendida entre ambas se encontraba la ciudad libre de Danzig.

Después de la II Guerra Mundial, la Unión Soviética se anexionó Königsberg, que fue rebautizada como Kaliningrado en honor a un revolucionario bolchevique. Ahora, la ciudad vuelve a estar separada de su nave nodriza por un corredor conocido como el corredor de Suwalki, una franja de tierra llana de 65 kilómetros de longitud en la frontera polaco-lituana, que debe su nombre a una ciudad polaca situada al sur del confín interterritorial.…  Seguir leyendo »

Yesterday, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko met with Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, in Sochi to discuss closer integration. The ongoing political unrest in Belarus — a small country that is politically close to Russia and borders it on its west — has led some observers to speculate Putin might intervene militarily to prevent Belarus’s government from being overthrown.

Putin faces his own domestic problems, with Russia in the middle of a deep recession. Intervention might be popular with the Russian public, just as Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine was. However, as my research shows, this is unlikely: Ordinary Russians don’t like military adventures in bad economic times.…  Seguir leyendo »

La filosofía marxista no es de ninguna utilidad para vaticinar el curso de la historia, pero si obviamos su aspecto mesiánico, puede servir para comprender el presente, especialmente la relación que existe entre los comportamientos políticos e ideológicos (la «superestructura») y las condiciones económicas (la «infraestructura»). Según Marx, y simplificando en extremo su pensamiento complejo, son las circunstancias económicas las que orientan las decisiones políticas e influyen en las ideas dominantes. Es discutible y simplista, pero no es necesariamente falso o, en cualquier caso, puede ser cierto en parte.

Este análisis me parece bastante oportuno actualmente en una Rusia que estalla por todas partes: en Bielorrusia, que, al contrario que Ucrania, ha sido siempre una provincia rusa (Bielorrusia solo se convirtió en un Estado en 1948 para otorgar un voto más a la URSS en la ONU); en Jabárovsk, en Siberia; y en el centro, en Moscú, con Alexéi Navalni, el adversario envenenado y némesis inalterable de Putin.…  Seguir leyendo »

C’est une aspiration qui ne connaît pas de frontières. C’est elle qui avait fait tomber le rideau de fer en 1989. C’est elle qui avait fait manifester, six mois durant, les Iraniens en 2009. C’est encore elle qui avait suscité les printemps arabes de 2011 dont la force et le provisoire échec rappellent tellement le printemps européen de 1848. C’est toujours elle qui avait soulevé Hongkong avant de donner le courage aux Biélorusses de défier leur despote depuis trois semaines et cette aspiration à la liberté vient annoncer, n’en doutons pas, le réveil d’une Russie qu’on sent si lasse du retour en arrière qu’elle vit depuis trop longtemps.…  Seguir leyendo »

La revolución bielorrusa y el Kremlin

Bielorrusia (o, más correctamente, Belarús) ya es otra. El bastión del inmovilismo postsoviético, el país que parecía alérgico al cambio, ha despertado por fin. A pesar de la brutalidad de la represión, una cantidad inédita de gente se ha echado a las calles de todo el país para decir basta. Las protestas además son socialmente transversales y llegan a las fábricas y al campo, más allá de las élites urbanas. No son las primeras manifestaciones de descontento, pero sí las primeras de esta magnitud y profundidad. En los últimos años varias señales sugerían un malestar creciente e indicaban que, pese a su fama de conformista, la sociedad bielorrusa quería cambios.…  Seguir leyendo »

Perder Bielorrusia está en manos de Putin

Enormes protestas se extendieron por Bielorrusia desde que Aleksandr Lukashenko afirmó fraudulentamente que había ganado con el 80 % de los votos la elección presidencial del 9 de agosto. Es posible que el futuro del país dependa ahora del presidente ruso Vladímir Putin.

Lukashenko gobierna Bielorrusia desde 1994, no le ha faltado apoyo popular e incluso recibió el apodo de Batka (padre), pero en las últimas semanas se sumaron a las protestas y huelgas enfurecidos ciudadanos de todos los sectores de la sociedad —entre ellos obreros, médicos y periodistas— y repentinamente jóvenes mujeres encabezaron la oposición. Svetlana Tikhanovskaya —la exmaestra que para muchos ganó las elecciones— no está organizando las protestas, pero su determinación canaliza el amplio descontento.…  Seguir leyendo »

For years, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has been taunting Moscow. He promised that Belarus will never become part of Russia. He blamed the Kremlin for attempting to incorporate its neighbor using oil and gas leverage. Most recently, he accused Russian mercenaries of plotting “terrorism” ahead of the presidential election. Separately, he claimed that he had thwarted a Russian-orchestrated plot to foment revolution. “The puppeteers,” according to the Belarusian leader, “sat on both sides of the border.”

Now everything has changed. Facing an unprecedented popular uprising, Lukashenko has turned to Moscow for help. As his 26-year rule is rocked by massive protests and strikes, Lukashenko has called on his closest ally and principal benefactor, Vladimir Putin, to provide military support if the situation continues to escalate.…  Seguir leyendo »

Europe’s two remaining dictators, Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus and Vladimir Putin of Russia, have always had an uneasy relationship. Yet despite their personal animosity, their regimes have depended on each other in important ways. Over the years Minsk has received support from Russia in the form of cheap energy and export markets, while the Kremlin has used Belarus as a model for its own authoritarian consolidation.

Lukashenko had a five-year head start. After coming to power in a free election in the mid-1990s, he succeeded in dismantling democracy by the end of that decade. His government silenced independent media outlets and cleansed the opposition from parliament.…  Seguir leyendo »

Belarusian army vehicles at an undisclosed location in Belarus on Sept. 11, 2017. (AP)

Alexander Lukashenko, the dictator of Belarus, is facing the biggest threat of his 26-year reign. An extraordinary popular revolt has brought his regime to the brink of collapse — something that Vladimir Putin, mortally afraid of democratic contagion from a “color revolution” in his western neighbor, can hardly countenance.

Yet as startling as it might seem, the turbulence in Belarus also gives Russia’s president an opportunity — one he could seize with a high-stakes display of brazen military aggression that could go beyond merely cracking down in Belarus. Perhaps the most frightening scenario: an invasion of Lithuania. The Baltic republic, which shares a 420-mile border with Belarus, is a member of both the European Union and NATO.…  Seguir leyendo »

Russian president Vladimir Putin and Belarus president Aliaksandr Lukashenka skiing in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Russia. Photo by SERGEI CHIRIKOV/AFP via Getty Images.

Amid outrage and revulsion at Belarus’s fraudulent election and the subsequent savage repression of protests, Western responses must be planned with half an eye on Russia. Not just for what is often described as the risk of ‘driving Belarus into Russia’s arms’ but also for the danger of unilateral Russian action, with or without Belarusian acquiescence.

In the past six years, there have been endless discussions of what might prompt another Russian military intervention in Europe after Ukraine. In many of these scenarios, it is precisely the situation currently unfolding in Belarus that has been top of the list, with all the wide-ranging implications for security of the continent as a whole that would follow.…  Seguir leyendo »

Vladimir Putin and Alexander Lukashenka at a Collective Security Treaty Organization meeting in Kyrgyzstan in November 2019. Photo: Getty Images.

Two December meetings between Presidents Vladimir Putin and Alexander Lukashenka failed to deliver Moscow’s hopes of securing Minsk’s acceptance of closer alignment between Russia and Belarus.

Over the past year, relations between Belarus and Russia have been under unprecedented strain as Moscow has tried to encourage Minsk to sign up to a different format of relations designed to keep Belarus firmly in a Russian orbit. Details of the negotiations have remained secret, yet issues on the table appear to include unification of tax and customs systems, a common energy regulator and joint governing bodies.

The Kremlin believes that Belarus needs to deliver more in return for Russia’s continued economic support, worth around $10 billion per year.…  Seguir leyendo »

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenka in Sochi in February. Photo: Getty Images.

Earlier this year, there was intense speculation in Moscow that the Kremlin was looking at putting flesh on the bones of the Union State as a platform for President Putin to stay in office after 2024 as leader of a Russian-Belarusian confederation. The joint state has only existed on paper since its formal establishment in 1999.

The ‘integration plan’ negotiated by the ministers of the economy of Russia and Belarus falls far short of establishing a single monetary, banking and customs system as foreseen in the original Union State Treaty. The draft agreement focuses on a more modest range of economic integration measures including a single tax code, a single regulator for the energy markets and deepening of common customs policies.…  Seguir leyendo »

Will Russia try to occupy Belarus?

Earlier this year, several public figures sounded that alarm, including former NATO general secretary Anders Rasmussen and Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum. That concern clashes with the idea that Belarus is Russia’s closest ally.

So where did they get that idea? Over the past four months, the Kremlin has been proposing closer ties within the Union State of Russia and Belarus, an agreement that aims toward deeper integration between the two. That treaty was signed in 1997 — but has had few tangible results. Some Russian elites are rumoring that creating a fully functioning union might enable Vladimir Putin to stay in power after he reaches his term limit as president in 2024.…  Seguir leyendo »

Servicemen take part in the joint Russian-Belarusian military exercises Zapad-2017. Photo by Sergei Gapon/AFP/Getty Images

Following seven days of "military operations", the fictional country of "Veshnoriya" (with a geography similar to that of the Baltic States) was forced into submission by Russian and Belarusian joint forces.

In a grand display, the "Union State" of Russia and Belarus destroyed the enemy after Veshnoriya tried to stage border incursions and massive air raids.

This scenario was, of course, played out in Russia and Belarus during the Zapad-2017 military exercise. But what were the key takeaways for the watching world?

Small is beautiful

Western commentators were obsessed with the numbers of Russian troops being mobilized during the course of exercise and stuck firmly to the "100,000 servicemen" narrative.…  Seguir leyendo »

Ces derniers temps, il m’est arrivé à plusieurs reprises de croiser sur la route Minsk-Vilnius des convois de poids lourds siglés « ministère de l’intérieur de Biélorussie ». Je ne pensais pas que le ministère de l’intérieur pouvait avoir de tels besoins logistiques. Les camions allaient dans la direction de « Veyshnoria », un territoire rebelle fictif situé au nord-ouest de la Biélorussie aux frontières lituanienne et polonaise, inventé par les états-majors de la défense russe et biélorusse dans le cadre de l’exercice militaire « Zapad 2017 » [Ouest 2017].

Questionnements légitimes

Formellement, cet exercice a débuté le 14 septembre et devrait se dérouler jusqu’au 20 sur le territoire biélorusse et dans l’ouest de la Russie, ainsi que dans la Baltique.…  Seguir leyendo »

L’exercice stratégique conjoint des forces russes et biélorusses « Zapad 2017 » [« Ouest 2017 »] a suscité une vague d’inquiétude sans précédent et attiré une fois de plus l’attention sur la Biélorussie. Coincée entre l’Union européenne [UE] et la Russie, la Biélorussie apparaît rarement dans les médias occidentaux et, lorsque c’est le cas, elle est presque systématiquement qualifiée de « dernière dictature européenne », avec ses prisonniers politiques et ses violations permanentes des droits de l’homme.

Libéralisation politique

La situation a commencé à changer un peu à la suite des accords de Minsk, dans lesquels la Biélorussie a joué un rôle significatif pour la résolution du conflit ukrainien.…  Seguir leyendo »

A man watches Russian military jets performing in Alabino, Russia, outside Moscow. (Pavel Golovkin, File/AP Photo)

As Russia prepares for its annual strategic military exercises, speculation is mounting that the Zapad-2017 war games, set for Thursday through Sept. 20 in western Russia and Belarus, might be a prelude to war. Ukraine’s defense minister cautioned that Zapad could be a ruse to attack any European country “that shares a border with Russia,” while the New York Times proclaimed that the drills near NATO’s borders have raised “fears of aggression.” A CNN contributor wondered, “Could they turn into war?”

My analysis of Russia’s recent war games suggests that this is highly unlikely. The Russian military is preparing for war, but that is what generals in all countries do — prepare for worst-case scenarios, and carry out large-scale exercises to test the military’s readiness for them.…  Seguir leyendo »