The ascent of Joe Biden and his neocon “promoters of democracy” to the White House likely means renewed attention to the idea of Color Revolutions once thought to bring liberation to nations under the heel of dictators. First in line for this latest geopolitical blessing could be Belarus, already site of protracted street protests in the wake of a hotly-challenged August election. The familiar moral imperative: get rid of a deeply-entrenched ruler (“another Hitler”) standing in the way of all that is enlightened, democratic, “Western” – in this case, also a Putin ally! If President Trump exhibited little interest in regime-change crusades, an emboldened Biden administration can be expected to seize any new opportunity with ideological zeal. And what better opportunity than a politically turbulent country on the doorstep of the tyrannical Russian empire.
Biden and his presumed Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, have already called for a more vigorous U.S. geopolitical presence in the Middle East and Europe, crucial to the goal of a revitalized neoliberal order presumably in need of more regime changes, possibly new wars that should bring the Pentagon and deep state back to less-disputed prominence in American political life. Biden recently said: “I continue to stand with the people of Belarus and support their democratic aspirations. I also condemn the appalling human rights abuses committed by the Lukashenko regime.”
Blinken, it turns out, is the ultimate neocon, with an abiding love of the Pentagon, CIA, corporate power, and Israel – matched, of course, by obligatory hatred of Russia and Putin. Blinken and Biden have been allies for nearly two decades, both Democrats havingp vigorously supported the Iraq war as well as the Libya debacle. Both are hell-bent on removing President Assad in Syria, segue to Obama’s unfinished regime-change mission there. Since 2018 Blinken has worked at WestExec Advisors, a strategic firm where the military, CIA, Wall Street, and Silicon Valley converge around shared global ambitions. Among its Beltway exploits, WestExec has serviced a good many Fortune 500 corporations, especially those doing business with the Pentagon.
In the wake of recent political dramas in Belarus – a lopsided and seemingly-fixed presidential election, massive street protests, agitated reactions from both Russia and the European Union – it seems another Color Revolution could be on the agenda, inspired by interventions in Serbia during the late 1990s and Ukraine in both 2004 and 2014 (not counting Libya in 2011). In such cases social turbulence gives rise to political breakdown and regime change.
Belarus voting in August gave Alexander Lukashenko his sixth presidency since 1994, this time with a staggering – and obviously suspicious – 80 percent of the total. That result was immediately contested by rival candidate Svetlana Tikhonovskaya, lodged from her new habitat in Vilnius, Lithuania. Street protests, already planned in late June, quickly spread and intensified. A “Freedom March” in late August attracted more than 250,000 people in the capital Minsk alone, most hoping to overthrow a leader widely referred to as “Europe’s Last Dictator”. Although no monitors had been invited to observe the election, EU leaders denounced the outcome as “illegitimate” and called for a new round of balloting, along with economic sanctions that would soon target nearly 60 Belarus elites. The opposition took off virtually overnight, fueled by hopes for a “reborn Belarus”. Described accurately in the Western media as a “sheer display of people power”, the political scene brought forth images of earlier strife in Serbia, Libya, Georgia, and Ukraine.
Could Belarus, with a population of ten million bordering Russia, eventually follow the trajectory of the “Maidan Scenario” in 2014 Ukraine, a Washington-organized coup bringing to power a motley assortment of oligarchs, neo-fascists, and rightwing nationalists? That coup, as is now well known, was engineered by a well-funded coalition of U.S. regime-changers: neocons, the CIA, a team of NGOs financed by George Soros, a group of Democrats including Biden (Obama’s “point man” in Ukraine). The established Color Revolution playbook, however, now seems less relevant to Belarus, given the enormity of the protests – meaning any Biden regime-change efforts could face less difficulty.
Worth asking at this juncture, then, is whether the political forces mobilized to oust Lukashenko signify a genuine domestic upheaval based in grassroot movements, rather independent of Western designs. In fact close scrutiny of post-election Belarus reveals the emergence of a surprisingly durable opposition to Lukashenko’s heretofore stable reign. Viewed thusly, parallels with Ukraine turn out to be actually weak. Recent (late November) demonstrations brought more than 100,000 people into the streets of Minsk alone. There have been eleven major protests since August – all large and militant though somewhat dispersed – drawing mainly from Catholics, sectors of labor, and students in consistently big numbers. On Saturdays women gather in Minsk by the tens of thousands, sometimes displaying the banner “March Against Fascism”. Masked security forces have used tear gas and stun grenades to break up the crowds; more than 15,000 have been arrested in just the past several weeks. Police repression, including frequent shutdown of Internet services, has only served to perpetuate a thriving resistance.
In whatever manner it occurs, regime change in Belarus could eventually bring additional NATO military deployments along Russian borders. A key question here turns on how Vladimir Putin might respond to stepped-up close to the Federation. The ritual view of mainstream media, in both the U.S. and Europe, is that Lukashenko’s days are indeed numbered – the only uncertainty being just when and how the villainized ruler will be toppled. We are told to believe he has little to offer Belarusians beyond continued dictatorial rule and subservience to Moscow. In reality Lukashenko, despite ample Russian material and political backing, appears so far unable to neutralize the popular tide. At the same time, deeper cultural trends favor closer Belarus ties with the West, placing the “Union State” with Moscow in greater jeopardy.
There remains another question: to what extent has foreign intervention managed to influence the continuing saga in Belarus? Put differently, are interests that so powerfully fed the coup in Kiev now equally at work in Minsk? For Belarus, mounting evidence suggests that the presence of Western interests hardly compares with that of Serbia or Ukraine, though again a Biden presidency could easily feed off something akin to a Maidan spectacle in the early months of his tenure.
While Belarus is relatively small and lacks the strategic (or resource) importance of Ukraine, that could matter little going forward. The stark reality is that regime-change in Minsk would finally bring an end to the Soviet legacy in Europe. One key to Lukashenko’s repeated electoral successes has been retention of a robust Belarus public infrastructure inherited from the Communist era. Its medical, educational, and urban programs are probably the most generous in eastern Europe, surely better than those of Russia while conflicting with harsher neoliberal agendas embraced by Washington and the EU, the “shock therapy” long resisted by Lukashenko. The Big Capital that dominates the West (and championed by billionaires like Soros) constantly seeks newer investment and market outlets, and so far Lukashenko has stood (if partially) in the way, a stubborn enemy of deregulated capitalism.
Should Belarus eventually fall to popular insurgency, one outcome would likely be dismantling of the crucial Druzhba oil pipeline connecting Russia with the rest of Europe – the world’s longest and perhaps most important. That pipeline helps cement the Belarus-Russian partnership, so its possible demise would not be taken lightly by either Putin or Lukashenko. EU leaders have scarcely disguised their hopes of disrupting a pipeline that gives Moscow such vast economic leverage across Europe.
Finally, there is the antiquated NATO alliance that derives its central rationale from targeting a weakened (though still militarily-powerful) Russia. With collapse of the Berlin Wall and then dismantlement of Yugoslavia, Color Revolutions were viewed in the West as the wave of the future. The present scenario would leave Moscow to face a Washington increasingly obsessed, for reasons not fully intelligible, with rekindling a new Cold War. Along this trajectory, presumably, Belarus would end up the receptacle of Western corporate and military interests, no different from the Balkans, Ukraine, Poland, and Lithuania. Here the fate of Lukashenko would likely resemble that of Slobodan Milosevic in Serbia, a “dictator” (though elected) turned into a diabolical war criminal. Since August NATO armed deployments have been augmented near the lengthy Belarus borders with Poland and Lithuania.
The extent to which Maidan-style operatives have been active in Belarus during 2020 has been limited. Both Lukashenko and the Russians insist that Western agents, including many NGOs, are in fact extremely active in Minsk and a few other cities, but their scope hardly approaches that in Ukraine, where well-funded American involvement goes back to 1989. There are reports indicating that CIA regime-change assets are currently being mobilized in Georgia, Ukraine, Poland, and the Baltic States, some possibly for action in Belarus. U.S.-funded media (Radio Free Europe, others) has indeed turned more aggressive since the election, no doubt energized by the street protests. Regime-change operatives have identified fertile targets among Catholics and students, as mentioned, along with workers at the rising tech sector (known as High Tech Park) in Minsk. Yet Washington penetration of Belarus currently falls well short of that needed for a successful coup, reflecting in part Trump’s apparent lack of interest in Color Revolutions. The Soros-backed International Renaissance Foundation has not been noticeably active in Belarus, but that too could eventually change.
Even should prospects for a “Maidan in Minsk” increase with Biden and his neocon allies in the White House and a more active deep state, that fantasy comes with enormous risks in a setting where the two most powerfully nuclear-armed states, deeply-suspicious of each other, expand the zone of escalating conflict. Putin, indeed any Russian leader, is very unlikely to tolerate another U.S./NATO Color takeover on his doorstep. Belarus remains a vital buffer state between Russia and the rest of Europe. And retaining hold of the mammoth oil pipeline is surely non-negotiable. Whether Putin would be ready to risk military conflict over Belarus obviously raises even bigger questions. As for Washington, crazed by years of Russiagate and generalized anti-Russia hysteria, one cannot rule out any future geopolitical calamity.
CARL BOGGS is the author, most recently, of Origins of the Warfare State, Fascism Old and New, and Facing Catastrophe: Food, Politics, and the Ecological Crisis.