Recently, Wikistrat hosted an interactive simulation with 40+ world-leading experts examining the potential evolution of the relations between Russia and Belarus following the aftermath of the contested Belarusian elections.
The situation in Belarus has been precarious for decades, with President Aleksandr Lukashenko adroitly managing the balancing act between Russia and the West. Crises come and go, and the core issues underlying the August 2020 election and its aftermath, entailing increased Russian pressure and renewed Western disapprobation following the latest human rights crackdown, are not unprecedented. Nevertheless, the Belarus situation is not sustainable indefinitely.
Despite Lukashenko's current success in maintaining his grip on power in the face of popular discontent, Western nations, and Belarus itself, are likely eventually to have to deal with a situation where Russia feels either that its patience is exhausted or that development in Belarus poses an actual threat that demands intervention.
To assess the potential evolution of the relations between Russia and Belarus, Wikistrat has conducted a simulation examining the impact of an extreme-case scenario on the relations between Russia and Belarus. In this scenario, Russia responds to a deteriorating situation in Belarus by establishing a permanent military presence there.
Click below to download the report:
There is no current trigger for Russian military intervention, yet worsening unrest in Belarus would be the most likely trigger. That said, there are few obstacles to Russian military intervention. According to the experts playing in Team Russia, worsening unrest in Belarus would be the most likely trigger for Russian military intervention, with the likelihood increased still further by any indication that the opposition might adopt a more Westward-leaning stance, or that protests might spread to Russia itself. Experts assessed that the most effective deterrent of Russian action would be a demonstration of willingness for active military resistance by Belarusian forces, but noted that this was also the least likely to happen.
Russia will tighten its political and economical grip on Belarus: Almost 75% of experts expected Russia to further increase subsidies to sustain the Belarusian economy, and the same number thought integration projects within the framework of the Union State of Russia and Belarus would be accelerated.
An uninvolved USA: A recurring theme in experts’ discussions in both phases of the simulation was the unlikelihood of meaningful involvement in political processes by the United States and lack of confidence in the US’s role in NATO.
Russia risks punitive (yet restricted) responses from the EU: 60% of the experts assessed that the EU response would consist of expressions of concern or nothing at all. Of the potential responses offered, were canceling the Nordstream 2 pipeline; an EU “Magnitsky Act” targeting officials in Russia and/or Belarus with sanctions; increased engagement with the Belarusian opposition, including financial support.
NATO’s essential forward presence: A strong majority (84%) of analysts playing NATO assessed that increasing forward deployments to front-line states would be a likely response by European NATO to assertive action by Russia that compromises Belarusian sovereignty
Engage but don’t recognize the Belarusian opposition government: experts determined that recognition of a government in exile in Belarus’s present situation carried a substantial number of risks for little practical return.
Likely misinformation campaign against the Belarusian opposition: experts expected personal attacks intended to discredit individual opposition figures, accompanied by influence campaigns in Europe agitating against engagement with the opposition.