Sergei Lavrov’s Belarus trip: smoothing out corners of rising tensions

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Friday arrived on a working visit in Minsk where he held talks with his Belarusian counterpart Vladimir Makei. According to the official report, the two top diplomats discussed Eurasian integration developments, cooperation in the EAEU, the CSTO, and the CIS, as well as approach coordination at international platforms, primarily the UN and the OSCE.
The visit’s main achievement was the conclusion between Russia and Belarus of an agreement on mutual recognition of visas issued to foreigners to cross into these countries.
However, behind this formal language of diplomacy lie things that are not supposed to be put on public display. In this case, it’s about the most recent, sharply aggravated political confrontation between Minsk and Moscow and the mutual infowar, even hybrid blows.

Note the timing of Lavrov’s visit. The foreign minister came amid the latest arrest of retired Russian police lieutenant colonel Andrei Novikov, who was accused of plotting unrest during the presidential election in Belarus. Also, Belarus authorities accused Gazprom of interfering in the election campaign, President Alexander Lukashenko declared he had hindered a foreign plot to destabilize Belarus, while “kompromat” on Lukashenko’s eldest son is now being spun in the Russian internet segment.
Belarusian media reported that in late May, state-owned companies were instructed to stop cooperation with Russian banks and their branches, and to withdraw all funds from their relevant accounts there.
What an interesting coincidence, indeed. And it reminds me of the situation we observed in Montenegro back in 2016, where authorities foiled the coup tailored by Russia’s GRU military intelligence.
Then it was Secretary of the Russian Security Council, Nikolai Patrushev, who flew to Belgrade to cool tensions and formally apologized for what the Russian masterminds behind the botched coup had done in Montenegro.
That was such a shameful moment that the FSB decided to further intensify pressure on their GRU rivals. Now, in the context of the ongoing tug of war between Minsk and Moscow, the common features with the failed Montenegrin scenario have become evident.
Starting 2019, Belarus has sharply upped the number of its complaints to Russia. They went beyond economic or political fields, also relating to unauthorized, destructive efforts spearheaded by the “fraternal” nation’s intelligence.
In the spring of 2019, when Belarus law enforcers nabbed Lukashenko’s ex-security chief along with a bunch of high-ranking security officials, Russian Ambassador Mikhail Babich was officially expelled from Belarus (the formal report said he had been “recalled”). That’s the same guy who was originally tapped for the top job in Kyiv embassy and is now overseeing Donbas issues along the FSB lines. Back during his time in Belarus, Babich had in his team military attaché Kirill Kolyuchkin, known for his skills in masterminding coups on foreign soil.
In the fall of 2019, Belarus expelled on espionage allegations another “diplomat” – Roman Spiridonov, a Russian military attaché who had previously been expelled from France on similar grounds. And literally right after sending Spiridonov back home, Minsk authorities detained and interrogated Russian national Anna Bogacheva, an employee of Putin’s troll factory run by his “chef” Yevgeny Prigozhin.
And therefore, in the wake of Lukashenko’s statement on botching a foreign plot to destabilize Belarus, Sergei Lavrov’s visit is by no means a coincidence, but an attempt to smooth out corners that have become too sharp ahead of the June 24 parade in Moscow where the Belarus president had been invited. Now it seems though that Moscow has messed up bad in their clandestine efforts targeting Belarus. Well, such failures on the part of the Kremlin have long ceased to surprise me.
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