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Is Belarus on the brink of pivoting away from Russia?

President Lukashenko’s recent actions and statements suggest Belarus may be about to pivot away from its traditional alliance with Russia towards the West.

Andrew Korybko

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The past couple of days have seen a flurry of statements and actions from the Belarussian side indicating that President Lukashenko is on the brink of pivoting his country away from Russia.

As a brief backgrounder, I have previously written a detailed analysis in May 2015 questioning the intentions behind Belarus’ rapid rapprochement with the West, suggesting that its leader might be tempted by sanctions relief and other perks to ditch his Russian ally in favor of his new “Western partners”.  Lo and behold, that cautionary forecast now horrifyingly seems to be on the verge of rapidly materializing, as Lukashenko sharply lashed out at Russia for its decision to heighten the FSB’s security forces along their mutual border and has threatened escalatory political-legal measures in response.

Russia’s supposedly controversial move was prompted by Minsk declaring at the beginning of last month that it would implement 5-day visa-free travel privileges to visitors from over 80 countries. While the public intent behind this decision appears to have been to improve Belarus’ attractiveness to foreign tourists and bring in much-needed foreign currency, any responsible security professional in Russia could obviously see the potential for it to be exploited by hostile forces in exporting countless “Weapons of Mass Migration” into their country.

It should be remarked in this context that Russia and Belarus are legally in a “union state” which has removed the common international border between them, so “visitors” entering Belarus could in theory just hop across the border to Russia without any problem.

Therefore, Moscow felt compelled to order the FSB border security initiative which has since rankled Minsk.

In hindsight, it appears as though Lukashenko’s earlier decision pertaining to 5-day visa-free travel privileges for over 80 different countries was a sly provocation to trigger the predicted Russian response, with Belarus foreseeing that this would give it enough of a “face-saving” excuse to justify its further pivot towards the West.

In regards to this preplanned provocation and Russia’s reasonable reaction to it, Lukashenko has issued a set of statements which would have been otherwise inconceivable – or at the very least, “unjustified” – had it not been for the drama that he (or the foreign forces advising him) first engineered.

Commenting on the FSB decision to heighten border security with Belarus, he accused Russia of violating international agreements , which is uncharacteristically harsh language for one “ally” to use against another. Coupling this with the preexisting (and often perennial) oil dispute that he once again has with Moscow, Lukashenko swore that he would take Russia to court.

If this results in Russia cutting off oil supplies or at the very least reducing their output until the increasingly prolonged dispute is finally settled, then Belarus is willing to deal with the consequences of what would eerily mirror the gas crisis that Ukraine started with Russia over a decade ago.

In the words of the Belarussian President himself

It is clear that we will do without Russian oil, though it will be very difficult for us. It is not comparable, if you choose between independence and Russian, Iranian, Azerbaijani or American oil

As the saying goes, “when it rains, it pours”, and Lukashenko looks to have used this ‘convenient’ occasion to also issue threats against Russia for banning select agricultural imports from Belarus on the grounds that they were unsafe.

Lukashenko pinpointed Sergey Dankvert, the head of Rosselkhoznadzor (Russian agriculture watchdog), as being the subject of a new “criminal proceeding” for allegedly “causing damage to the state”.

What Belarus is doing, in fact, is laying the precedential framework for later ‘justifying’ its forthcoming withdrawal or (voluntary or Russian-enforced) suspension from the Eurasian Union, despite Lukashenko smearing such a forecast as a “hoax story”.

It might also be preparing to do something similar as regards the CSTO, even though the organization just issued an official statement refuting any such reports.

It’s unclear at this moment exactly how far Belarus’ pro-Western pivot will go, and whether Lukashenko plans to leave or become suspended from one or both of these organizations, or remain within them as a permanent stumbling block to their efficiency.

The Belarussian leader’s words can’t be taken at face value, since even if he intends to pursue one or the other scenario, he’d obviously have enough diplomatic sense at this time to not openly state so in public, though whatever promises he gave to his new “Western partners” are another matter entirely.

No matter which direction it ultimately leads, Belarus’ latest moves are very troubling for Russia’s multipolar integrational efforts and have served to accelerate the deterioration in trust between both sides.

Although bilateral disputes are not uncommon, this one carries with it a deeper significance because of the raft of countermeasures and unusually harsh rhetoric that accompany it, to say nothing of the tense international situation of the New Cold War in which all of this is unfolding.

It’s very unlikely that the hot-headed and stubborn Lukashenko will back down from his latest theatrics, both because of the nature of his personality and due to the subtle encouragement that he’s getting from his new “Western partners”.

The extent of how far he’ll eventually go is probably dependent on the financial and other personal benefits that he believes he can reap from a pro-Western pivot, as well as whether Russia is successful in matching or ‘outbidding’ them for his continued ‘loyalty’.

A closet reading of the situation, however, indicates that Belarus has already made up its mind about which direction it wants to go and is approaching the final stages of formalizing its decision.

Minsk’s latest attacks against Moscow might even be political signaling to Brussels and Washington that Lukashenko is serious about whatever he may have previously agreed to with them behind closed doors, and that this most recent round of rhetoric is a ‘goodwill gesture’ designed to prove to them that he’s indeed a trustworthy partner. All that he’s waiting for now is confirmation that his covert interlocutors will carry through on their end of the deal, which might not happen right away of course, but could progressively play out across the next couple of months as more sanctions are lifted and other perks extended to the Belarussian leadership and its military-economic elite supporters.

Should Belarus continue along this trajectory, then whether or not it remains in Russia’s economic and military integrational institutions is a moot point because it’ll be essentially functioning as a deadweight which holds them back from everything that they’re trying to accomplish.

Even worse, however, would be if Lukashenko tries to integrate Belarus into the opposite direction through an EU Association Agreement and a milder form of the “Shadow NATO” partnership that Ukraine presently has.

If either of these two, let alone both, eventualities ends up transpiring in any form or fashion, then it would signal a major crisis for the security of Russia’s western borderland regions.

Russia already has to worry about Sweden and Finland potentially joining NATO in the future, the Atlantic Bloc’s illegal buildup in the Baltic States and Poland, Ukraine’s uncomfortable de-facto integration with parts of the organization, and the group’s provocative war games in the Black Sea, so the last thing that Moscow needs to worry about at this moment is one of its most trusted and longest allies ‘defecting’ to the enemy and opening up a gaping hole in Russia’s security.

Moreover, given the lasting effect of historical memory and unshakeable geopolitical determinants, it’s entirely foreseeable that an emboldened and newly anti-Russian Belarus might team up with Poland in expanding Warsaw’s “NeoCommonwealth” eastward to the gates of the Russian Heartland/Core.

There’s no telling how Russia’s decision makers would preemptively respond if they were convinced that such a scenario was inevitably unfolding, but it’s reasonable to conclude that it would represent the end of the Russian-Belarussian Strategic Partnership.

From a cynical perspective, however, the triggering of this series of events – which appears to have already started to a certain degree – might have been exactly what the US and EU expected when they initiated their first ‘olive branch’ outreaches to the country a few years ago, and with Lukahsneko personally lavishing in the “pro-democratic” praise of his new “Western partners” and appearing to be utterly enamored with the attention that they’ve been giving him lately, it’s going to be a monumental challenge for Russia to reverse the strategic momentum and “win” Belarus back.

DISCLAIMER: All personal views are my own and do not necessarily coincide with the positions of my employer (Sputnik News) or partners unless explicitly and unambiguously stated otherwise by them. I write in a private capacity unrepresentative of anything and anyone except for my own personal views. Nothing written by me should ever be conflated with Sputnik or the Russian government’s official position on any issue.

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EU leaders dictate Brexit terms to Theresa May (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 115.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss how EU leaders have agreed on a plan to delay the the Article 50 process which effectively postpones Brexit beyond the 29 March deadline.

The UK will now be offered a delay until the 22nd of May, only if MPs approve Theresa May’s withdrawal deal next week. If MPs do not approve May’s negotiated deal, then the EU will support a short delay until the 12th of April, allowing the UK extra time to get the deal passed or to “indicate a way forward”.

UK PM Theresa May said there was now a “clear choice” facing MPs, who could vote for a third time on her deal next week.

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Theresa May outlines four Brexit options, via Politico

In a letter to MPs, U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May set out the four options she believes the country has in light of Thursday’s decision by EU leaders to extend the Brexit deadline beyond next Friday.

The U.K. is faced with a four-way choice, May wrote late Friday.

The government could revoke Article 50 — which May called a betrayal of the Brexit vote; leave without a deal on April 12; pass her deal in a vote next week; or, “if it appears that there is not sufficient support” for a vote on her deal in parliament next week or if it is rejected for a third time, she could ask for an extension beyond April 12.

But this would require for the U.K. taking part in European elections in May, which the prime minister said “would be wrong.”

May wrote that she’s hoping for the deal to pass, allowing the U.K. to leave the EU “in an orderly way,” adding “I still believe there is a majority in the House for that course of action.”

“I hope we can all agree that we are now at the moment of decision,” she wrote.

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US media suffers panic attack after Mueller fails to deliver on much-anticipated Trump indictment

Internet mogul Kim Dotcom said it all: “Mueller – The name that ended all mainstream media credibility.”

RT

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Via RT


Important pundits and news networks have served up an impressive display of denials, evasions and on-air strokes after learning that Robert Mueller has ended his probe without issuing a single collusion-related indictment.

The Special Counsel delivered his final report to Attorney General William Barr for review on Friday, with the Justice Department confirming that there will be no further indictments related to the probe. The news dealt a devastating blow to the sensational prophesies of journalists, analysts and entire news networks, who for nearly two years reported ad nauseam that President Donald Trump and his inner circle were just days away from being carted off to prison for conspiring with the Kremlin to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.

Showing true integrity, journalists and television anchors took to Twitter and the airwaves on Friday night to acknowledge that the media severely misreported Donald Trump’s alleged ties to Russia, as well as what Mueller’s probe was likely to find. They are, after all, true professionals.

“How could they let Trump off the hook?” an inconsolable Chris Matthews asked NBC reporter Ken Dilanian during a segment on CNN’s ‘Hardball’.

Dilanian tried to comfort the CNN host with some of his signature NBC punditry.

“My only conclusion is that the president transmitted to Mueller that he would take the Fifth. He would never talk to him and therefore, Mueller decided it wasn’t worth the subpoena fight,” he expertly mused.

Actually, there were several Serious Journalists who used their unsurpassed analytical abilities to conjure up a reason why Mueller didn’t throw the book at Trump, even though the president is clearly a Putin puppet.

“It’s certainly possible that Trump may emerge from this better than many anticipated. However! Consensus has been that Mueller would follow DOJ rules and not indict a sitting president. I.e. it’s also possible his report could be very bad for Trump, despite ‘no more indictments,'” concluded Mark Follman, national affairs editor at Mother Jones, who presumably, and very sadly, was not being facetious.

Revered news organs were quick to artfully modify their expectations regarding Mueller’s findings.

“What is collusion and why is Robert Mueller unlikely to mention it in his report on Trump and Russia?” a Newsweek headline asked following Friday’s tragic announcement.

Three months earlier, Newsweek had meticulously documented all the terrible “collusion” committed by Donald Trump and his inner circle.

But perhaps the most sobering reactions to the no-indictment news came from those who seemed completely unfazed by the fact that Mueller’s investigation, aimed at uncovering a criminal conspiracy between Trump and the Kremlin, ended without digging up a single case of “collusion.”

The denials, evasions and bizarre hot takes are made even more poignant by the fact that just days ago, there was still serious talk about Trump’s entire family being hauled off to prison.

“You can’t blame MSNBC viewers for being confused. They largely kept dissenters from their Trump/Russia spy tale off the air for 2 years. As recently as 2 weeks ago, they had @JohnBrennan strongly suggesting Mueller would indict Trump family members on collusion as his last act,” journalist Glenn Greenwald tweeted.

While the Mueller report has yet to be released to the public, the lack of indictments makes it clear that whatever was found, nothing came close to the vast criminal conspiracy alleged by virtually the entire American media establishment.

“You have been lied to for 2 years by the MSM. No Russian collusion by Trump or anyone else. Who lied? Head of the CIA, NSA,FBI,DOJ, every pundit every anchor. All lies,” wrote conservative activist Chuck Woolery.

Internet mogul Kim Dotcom was more blunt, but said it all: “Mueller – The name that ended all mainstream media credibility.”

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Canadian Lawmaker Accuses Trudeau Of Being A “Fake Feminist” (Video)

Rempel segued to Trudeau’s push to quash an investigation into allegations that he once groped a young journalist early in his political career

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Via Zerohedge

Canada’s feminist-in-chief Justin Trudeau wants to support and empower women…but his support stops at the point where said women start creating problems for his political agenda.

That was the criticism levied against the prime minister on Friday by a conservative lawmaker, who took the PM to task for “muzzling strong, principled women” during a debate in the House of Commons.

“He asked for strong women, and this is what they look like!” said conservative MP Michelle Rempel, referring to the former justice minister and attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould, who has accused Trudeau and his cronies of pushing her out of the cabinet after she refused to grant a deferred prosecution agreement to a Quebec-based engineering firm.

She then accused Trudeau of being a “fake feminist”.

“That’s not what a feminist looks like…Every day that he refuses to allow the attorney general to testify and tell her story is another day he’s a fake feminist!”

Trudeau was so taken aback by Rempel’s tirade, that he apparently forgot which language he should respond in.

But Rempel wasn’t finished. She then segued to Trudeau’s push to quash an investigation into allegations that he once groped a young journalist early in his political career. This from a man who once objected to the continued use of the word “mankind” (suggesting we use “peoplekind” instead).

The conservative opposition then tried to summon Wilson-Raybould to appear before the Commons for another hearing (during her last appearance, she shared her account of how the PM and employees in the PM’s office and privy council barraged her with demands that she quash the government’s pursuit of SNC-Lavalin over charges that the firm bribed Libyan government officials). Wilson-Raybould left the Trudeau cabinet after she was abruptly moved to a different ministerial post – a move that was widely seen as a demotion.

Trudeau has acknowledged that he put in a good word on the firm’s behalf with Wilson-Raybould, but insists that he always maintained the final decision on the case was hers and hers alone.

Fortunately for Canadians who agree with Rempel, it’s very possible that Trudeau – who has so far resisted calls to resign – won’t be in power much longer, as the scandal has cost Trudeau’s liberals the lead in the polls for the October election.

 

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