Now to preface this, I have argued extensively that many factors make it unlikely that Belarus institutes a hard anti-Russian zmagarist regime in the event of a successful color revolution against Lukashenko.
However, there are also some arguments to that effect which are if not outright false then significantly flawed.
Perhaps the biggest one is the argument from economics, which I have seen from a wide variety of people, from RT’s Bryan MacDonald to nationalist pundit Egor Prosvirnin. Basically, it goes that the Russian and Belorussian economies are so intertwined that a serious break in relations with Russia would lead to a collapse in living standards in Belarus – similar to what happened in Ukraine after 2014.
… Well, there you go. It did happen in Ukraine in 2014.
Moreover, the depression there was not permanent, as Ukropessimists like to claim. While severing economic ties might be painful, it is still a one-off shock, and growth eventually resumes – as Ukraine itself showed.
As commenter AP has shown, despite the loss of part of the Donbass, which was richer than the Ukrainian average – & the urban/industrial part of it at that – Ukraine had a higher GDP per capita relative to Russia by 2019, than it did in 2013.
In 2019 Ukraine had 45.7% of Russia’s GDP per capita PPP.
In 2013, before Maidan, Ukraine had 41% of Russia’s GDP per capita PPP.
In 2010 Ukraine had 40.2% of Russia’s GDP per capita PPP.
In 2008 Ukraine had 45% of Russia’s GDP per capita PPP.
But in 2007 Ukraine had 49% of Russia’s GDP per capita PPP. So actually after Maidan, by 2019 Ukraine had erased about a decade’s worth of decline compared to Russia and was back to its relative position in 2008.
EDIT: Some serious doubts raised over these calculations, e.g. see here, here which suggest that Ukraine hasn’t gained on Russia after all. Though doesn’t much detract from wider point; economic considerations didn’t stop Euromaidan.
The main effect was in fact to reorient the locus of Ukrainian growth from the more Russified East, which was more dependent on Russia, to the more Occidentophile west of the country, which has seen a modest influx of investment from Central European manufacturing companies even in run-down places like Ternopil, as well as IT offshoring to Kiev and Lvov.
Moreover, while Russia has indeed subsidized Belarus to the tune of tens of billions of dollars over the past decade in oil and gas dotations, it is also important to emphasize that its absolute volume has collapsed since 2016.
This in fact a significant driver of the negative feedback loops that have led us to these developments in the first place: (1) The stagnation of the Belorussian economy; (2) rising public discontent with Lukashenko; (3) worsening Russian-Belorussian relations.
However, what that also means is that some chunk of the pain from a breakdown in the Russian-Belorussian relationship has already been accounted for.
Now yes, there are a bunch of important caveats to this analysis:
(1) The most important one is that Ukraine has always been less “synced” with Russia, and relations were bound to go into a nosedive after Crimea and Russian backing for the Donbass rebellion anyway.
(2) Even in 2013, the Ukraine was almost twice less dependent on trade with Russia (23% of exports – down to 6.5% by 2019) than was Belarus (38%) in 2018.
(3) The state sector remains dominant in Belarus, accounting for 40% of exports, 50% of employment, 60% of gross revenue, and 80% of industrial production. Its preservation shielded Belorussians from the sharp collapses in living standards seen in both Russia and Ukraine during the 1990s. It is likely to be ravaged in the event of a reorientation towards the West – though the severity of this should be mitigated by many of these enterprises actually being internationally competitive.
(4) While one might argue that the improvement in Ukraine’s position relative to Russia was, in significant part, an artifact of the collapse of oil prices, which hit Russia disproportionately, it should be noted that Ukraine is also highly dependent on global commodity prices, and that it had to deal with a debt overhang which necessitated painful cuts to social welfare and associated hits on consumption. Aid from the developed world was always modest.
So, I’m not saying there’ll be no economic pain from a breakdown in Russian-Belorussian economic relations. There will be, and it will probably be worse than in Ukraine (perhaps comparable to what you saw in the Russia-oriented east of Ukraine, in places such as Kharkov and Dnepropetrovsk). But a hypothetical determinedly zmagarist regime will be able to pull through. Close economic ties to Russia are not absolutely indispensable for Belarus, especially considering that vicarious “national liberation” sentiments can tide over economic dismay for some period of time. It is dangerous for Russia to base calculations on the optimal course of action in Belarus on materialist determinism – that model having failed so spectacularly in the Ukraine (and, for that matter, as regards the USSR as a whole in the early 1990s).