Staunton, October 5 - The war of words between Dmitry Medvedev and Alyaksandr Lukashenka is more than just the product of tensions between Moscow and Minsk, Russian analysts say. Instead, it is part of a broader and growing alienation between the Russian Federation and the former Soviet republics, one that has its roots in clashing visions of the future.
But both because of the West's hostility to Lukashenka and his regime, one usually labeled "the last dictatorship in Europe," and because of the West's desire to curry favor with Moscow in pursuit of one or another goal, this general trend, widely noted by commentators in the region, has been largely ignored, let alone exploited, by Europe or the United States.
The clearest expression of this argument can be found in a commentary on Grani.ru yesterday. In it, Dmitry Shusharin, a regular writer for that portal, points out that the exchange of angry words between Medvedev and Lukashenka is part Moscow's current propensity to be angry with all leaders of the post-Soviet states (grani.ru/blogs/free/entries/182276.html).
Russia's "tandemocracy," he says,m had placed "great hopes" on new Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich, but exactly what these would in fact look like is something that Medvedev and Vladimir Putin, along with the rest of the Russian powers that be, clearly "did not themselves know" at least in any specific detail.
"In an ideal outcome," the Russian leaders "see relations with Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia and the other nearby neighbors if not as they were before in the USSR then as like those which the Soviet Union had with the countries of the Warsaw Pact," a vision that they and others should have understood was not going to be realized.
For Medvedev and Putin, the orientation of the leaders of these states "toward Western values and norms of politics" is completely "unacceptable," Shusharin says. That is why they placed such hopes on Lukashenka, whose ideology is a Russophile form of Belarusian identity, and on Yanukovich who "does not have any ideology" at all.
But now the Moscow leaders have been rejected by the first, and soon, they are likely to be rejected by the second as well, the commentator continues, an outcome Medvedev and Putin would have anticipated if they had remembered the real basis of the Warsaw Pact rather than the idealized version of it in which they apparently believe.
That military organization, led by Moscow, "was tank socialism" -- that is, Shusharin continues, "the single source, reserve and guarantee of the communist regimes in these countries was the Soviet Union and its military presence." When that disappeared so too did the Warsaw Pact.
But even before the events of the late 1980s, Shusharin points out, those leaders who had alternative sources of power like Yugoslavia's Tito and China's Mao Zedong could act independently. The only difference was that the first broke with Moscow early on while the second "for a long time led the Soviet Union by the nose and used its assistance."
Those experiences, Shusharin suggests, should serve as a lesson to Moscow but Russian leaders have not assimilated them. Moscow doesn't understand that "for the politicians in the former Soviet republics -- even if they are oriented toward Moscow and make use of its support -- relations with Russia are not as critical as relations with their own populations," "the source of their power within [their] countries."
Just as Western Europe and the United States dealt with the problems of the former Warsaw Pact countries and post-Tito Yugoslavia "without the particularly active participation of Russia, Shusharin says, so now "the authoritarian regimes in Ukraine and Belarus" will eventually ask for help from "Western Europe and the US, not Russia."
The reason that is so, he argues, is that Russia "does not guarantee [their] national sovereignty." Instead, its leaders act as if the former Soviet republics are not full-fledged independent countries but rather something less than that, places where Russia must enjoy greater deference and influence than any of them want to offer.
The current leaders of these countries "do not intend to divide power with Moscow," and they are very much aware that is what the Russian powers that be want. Consequently, sooner than many may expect, they will turn to Western countries, something that "again will be something completely unexpected" for the latter.