The article is based on a ‘Possible Russian Threat for the Territorial Unity of the Republic of Belarus’ speech delivered by the author at the Belarus Researches’ 5th International Congress held in Kaunas on October 2-4, 2015.
A complex problem of the ethnic conflicts on the post-Soviet territories occupies my professional attention for a long time and as a result of my research I can name more than fifty separatism and irredentism related ‘projects’ which Moscow tires to implement: from Estonia on the Russian western borders to Tajikistan on its south-west ones. Currently we witness quite a different range of these plans’ implementation: Crimea is already part of Russia; Transnistria, Abkhazia, a so-called South Ossetia, ‘DNR’ and ‘LNR’ are still waiting for the same scenario. It looks like Gagausia (and Taraclia region) will follow the same pattern.
Today a variety of covert activities are maintained under wraps: Estonian Narva region and Latvian Latgale; Ukrainian Black Sea regions as well as its specific areas – South Budjak, Slobodska Ukraine, Zakarpattia; Bălți in Moldova; Javakheti in Georgia (a Georgian type of Karabakh); several regions in Azerbaijan where Lezgian and Talysh people live; Tselinny region and Mangistau peninsula in Kazakhstan; Karakalpakia in Uzbekistan, etc. The next level of such activities is a continuous aggressive information war maintained by the Russia-related groups & individuals in the major social networks where one can read about Klaipeda, Vilen, Lviv, Kyiv and other “people’s republics”.
In general Russians see the outside world as something hostile and alien; this is a result of more than fifteen years of everyday propaganda delivered by a wide variety of Putin’s media (picture, Vasiliy Lozhkin).
The Russian propaganda is aimed not only at the EU and NATO countries (I mean the Baltic states), which according to Moscow propagandists are qualified as the brazen anti-Russian forces. The main targets in this case are those countries, which being pretty close to Russia, made a decision to move towards the Western civilization and its values: Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia. The same situation is with the countries, which are still hesitant in taking the final steps: Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan.
“Russia is borderless. Russia is where the Russians are”. Putin’s propaganda tries to convince Russians that certain ‘special rights’ exist allowing Russia to intrude and invade the neighbors
At the same time we can see how Russian allies are also targeted and how separatist ideas are supported there. All of this confirms a simple fact: as a predator, Russia considers its ‘younger brothers’ being useful as the donors of new territories or submissive allies. This was exactly a goal when a new international union was created – ‘A Union State of Russia and Belarus’.
Draft symbols of the Union State of Russia and Belarus
In simple English, there is a primitive formula which can be used to describe the Russia’s attitude towards the current and ex-Members of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS): you either follow the Kremlin’s policy dutifully entering a variety of strange unions, i.e. Customs, Eurasian, the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), etc. or you will lose your territories (the ones where minorities of the Russian-speaking population live). In this case it is not only an ethnic scheme we are talking about; another approach includes the so-called ‘historic arguments’.
If one wants to hit, there is always a tool to use. We can see a wide variety of tricks used to justify the Russian expansion and even an open aggression. This includes the Russian Federation’s succession of the USSR, a law on ‘fellow citizens’ according to which this category includes not only the ethnic Russians but also representatives of other nations who lived on the territory of Russia and even the Russian Empire and the USSR. So, Finns, Finnish Swedes, Baltic states’ citizens, Poles and Native Americans from Alaska (Aleuts, Eskimo, etc.) are ‘the Russian fellow citizens’. Another idea includes a myth about all Eastern Slavs and Orthodox Christians believers being part of ‘the Russian World’. So, people in Ukraine and Belarus are acknowledged as simple ethnic groups of the Russians, and there is no right for independence for such groups as we know. We see how Russia has assigned ‘the right’ to interfere into the neighbors’ matters (and not only) harming and damaging them.
Let’s try to understand how the Kremlin is planning to dismember (and finally annex) Belarus? It looks like there are at least three Moscow ‘projects’ aimed to liquidate or ‘suppress’ Belarus state and its citizens using blackmail, which is based on ethnic, ethnographic (ethno linguistics) and allegedly historic facts. We will consider each of them in a chronological order.
Nikolay Shelyagovich and his ‘Jatvingian’ symbols
The first project is a so-called Sudovian (also known as Jatvingian) project of Nikolay Shelyagovich. It is an attempt to imitate creation of an ethnic group (jatvingians) from the Ukrainian speaking population in Brest-Pinsk Polesia. I am not sure what particular reason Mr. Shelyagovich used to pick up this ethnonym but it is really does not matter (Jatvingians lived to the North-West from the above mentioned territory: Białowieża Forest, Western part of the Grodno region, Podlyashski Voivodeship, and South-West of Lithuania). It is much more important to understand what was behind this idea. Even the Belarus People Front did not recognize a danger immediately and thought about this project as a type of an innocent regionalism or a some kind of ‘unity in diversity’.
A Jatvingian theory can be compared to other pseudo-ethnic identities fabricated by Kremlin ‘specialists’. Here are the examples: Rusins in Zakarpattia, Zemaitija in Lithuania (‘Zhmudiny’), Latgalians in Latvia, Setos in Estonia, Mingrelians in Georgia, ‘Mangistauns’ in Kazakhstan, etc. The only difference in case of this particular project can be described as a necessity to create such ethnic group first and then demonstrate its separatists’ tendencies.
It looks like Kremlin political consultants decided to chose this region because Western Poleshchuks (populated the swamps of Polesia in the past) started to use the Russian language in their public communication since the 2nd part of the XX century; the main reason was them being in the center of the Ukrainian and Belarus nationalistic controversy. And ‘the bosses’ of Mr. Shelyagovich agreed that all of this would easily allow to create a certain Russia-oriented exclave using a ‘Jatvingian’ brand.
Different dialects of the Belarus language (yellow color indicates the West-Polesia subdialect)
The situation became more clear only when Shelyagovich made his (probably not only his) program public: to establish a ‘Jatvingian’ national administrative unit, i.e. West-Polesia, which together with the rest of Belarus should create a new federation. And it was clear that this format could be used in other parts of the country: Catholic North-West and Pro-Russian East regions. Another important issue: according to this plan ‘Jatvingia’ would include Ukrainian and Polish neighbor territories, which would definitely serve as a future conflict between two countries.
Belarusian (red) and Russian (blue) languages in Belarus. Urban population and rural population
Back in 1990 Shelyagovich created the Jatvingian’ People’s Party, then in 1995 – All Belarusian Party of Unity and Harmony, which worked closely with the Soviet-revanchist Belarusian (red) and Russian (blue) languages in Belarus. People’s Movement. Does it mean that we see how a separatist has been transformed into a Unitarianism supporter? Probably no; it is more about a new situation and new instructions.
‘Zbudine’ is a ‘Jatvingian’ newspaper. ‘Jatvingian’ insignia used by Nikolay Shelyagovich followers in Kaliningdrad
The whole ‘Jatvingian’ idea was born and disappeared quickly when in 1995 a proactive ally of the Russian-Belarus friendship was elected as a new leader of Belarus. But it is too early to forget about this project because its author and his ‘Jatvingian’ NGO moved to Korolevets (Kaliningrad). There Shelyagovich continues to publish his pseudo-historical works, which the Russian imperial and chauvinistic Internet resources eagerly publicize. One can say that this weapon is kept for a better time.
In March 2013 Shelyagovich named Belarus President Lukashenko ‘nationalist’ and warned him about a new ‘Jatvingian – Lithuanian’ federal district of the Russian consisted of Smolensk and Kaliningrad regions (please remember this detail). It is necessary to understand that Shelyagovich called Belarus ‘Lithuania’, but Kaliningrad region is divided from Belarus by a narrow strip of land – Lithuanian territory. So, the question is: how to implement this plan? And Shelyagovich answered it in 2014: he talked about a so-called ‘Jatvingian Rus’ – it is exactly a narrow strip of Lithuanian land between Russia (Kaliningrad region) and Belarus (Grodno region). He also mentioned a so-called ‘Neman Rus’, which is located in Lithuania (Klaipeda region).
A so-called ‘Jatvingian’ region
Some Belarusian researches (Andrey Dan’ko among them) believe that Shelyagovich is a member of the Russian secret services. We do not doubt this. I can add only one fact: his fellows in Lithuania who we know about look very similar to him.
Fictional ‘Jatvingian state’
As I already mentioned this ‘Jatvingia’ could serve as a bad example for Grodno region and the only question would be: when something similar might happen. And in January 2016 a freak was born – ‘Grodno People’s Republic’ – and not only this one: there are five more fellow republics – ‘The Baltic Rus‘ (a part of Northern Estonia from Narva to Tallinn), ‘Latgale People’s Republic’, ‘Vilenskaya People’s Republic‘, and ‘Lvovskaya People’s Republic‘. Unlike many other ‘people’s republics’, currently existing virtually and keeping names of the Ukrainian and Moldovan cities, these ones have been launched on the Facebook, which should mislead users as a ‘Western trail’. In case of Vilnius, Grodno and Lviv (so, 3 out of 5) an idea of the infamous ‘little green men’ has been developed; but they allegedly arriving from Poland not Russia. This is aimed to raise tension between Poland from one side and Lithuania, Belarus, and Ukraine from another one. There is nothing similar in case of Estonia and Latvia: a high percentage of the Russian population here allows to maintain propaganda openly.
A Facebook profile of the already deleted ‘Grodno People’s Republic’ (GPR) has a Polish flag and Grodno emblem, which belongs to the Polish Republic (1918-1939); A map of ‘the Great Poland’; The logo belongs to the right-wing organization ‘Falanga’, which is also a Polish partner of the GPR.
In this case we are talking about just a virtual provocation, not a physical capture of the Ukrainian administrative buildings and Security Service’s (USS) offices. At the same time such provocation should be considered as a warning signal: the scenario exists and might be implemented. In contrast to the other four scenarios, which are still available on the Net, all information on the “Grodno People’s Republic” has been deleted (as well as the “Latgale People’s Republic” entry – IN). It looks like the following conversation between two presidents (Belarus and Russia) could happen:
Lukashenko: “Dude, what is your problem? You know, I’m yours – heart and soul, but you do this to me. Do I look like Poroshenko or Saakashvili, eh?”
Putin: “OK, let’s forget it. But, bro, you stop with all this mediation; you are too independent. And especially for you we will foist a military base somewhere near Bobruisk or even Baranovichi or Lida (towns in Belarus). It is very close to Vilnius? Understood?”
The Belarus regions with a significant percentage of the Polish population
I think that currently this “people’s republic” exists to demonstrate ‘what could happen if…’ The only real Polish dirt was taken from ‘Falanga’ organization, which is part of a pro-Russian ‘Global Revolutionary Union’.
Next issue. For a while I could not understand the following: how come Putin talked about ‘the Russian nature’ of the Crimea and Sevastopol but never mentioned about ‘the Russian’ Eastern regions of Belarus, which were included into the state only in 1924-1927? But very soon I read different publications that these regions will remain part of Belarus only in case if two countries would maintain the same policy. If it is not a case… ‘historical justice’ will be implemented with a pretty clear outcome.
A map of Ukraine and Belarus ‘decorated’ by swastika of ‘The Russian National Unity’ (RNU), a page of the ‘Volunteer Divisions of the RNU’ and logo of the RNU partners in Belarus: Republican national-patriotic movement and ‘Resistance – White Rus’
Representatives of the RNU (The Russian National Unity) were the first who stated a necessity to establish “people’s republics” in the eastern regions (and not only) of Belarus already in October of 2014. Soon after RNU members tried to deny it but nobody really believed them as hundreds of them were fighting in Donbas and maps of Belarus ‘decorated’ by Barkashov (a RNU leader) swastika had been earlier seen on the Net. In March, 2015, a Russian chauvinistic web resource ‘Sputnik and pogrom’ published a fundamental article written by Kirill Averyanov, which required Belarus ‘to return what does not belong to them’.
Vasiliy Pochitskiy’s cartoon shows the Russian terrorists (‘little green men’) and local outcasts holding banners ‘Our Orsha!’, ‘GPR’, ‘MPR’, ‘VPR’.
And here it is necessary to remember that the capital of the 1st Belarus Soviet Republic (established in January 1919, but existed only for 2 short months) was in Smolensk; its Grodno and Minsk governorates became part of Litbel, Vitebsk, Mogilev, and Smolensk were returned to the Russian Soviet Republic. So, when one talks about a so-called ‘historical justice’ it is wise to remember this is a two-edged sword. But we also know that on the Eurasian area it is not logic but force, which plays the main role. As the Russian author of fables Krylov said: ‘It is your fault that I am hungry’.
Averyanov-Minskiy and a picture illustration from his book ‘How the Soviet Belarus was expanded’
Representatives of the Russian expansion theory do not recognize Belarus as an independent state at all (even if it is only a formality). For example, back in April-May 2006 on a Russian Black Hundreds web resource “The Russian People’s Line” a large article (12 chapters) was published – ‘A Belarusian Phenomena‘; it was written by a Russian chauvinist professor Sergey Lebedev and his ally professor Grigory Stelmashuk. The main idea is to proof that Belarus people is just a local type of the Russians.
So, who is this enigmatic S. Lebedev who described riots of ‘the enslaved’ Russians in Crimea, Donbas, Kharkiv and Odesa well in advance (he believes that all Eastern European Slavs are the Russians)? Later he had lost his rate and one would need to wait longer for the victorious irredentist riots in Bukovina, Gutsulshchina and Zakarpattia.
Professior Lebedev who can ‘predict the future’ regarding the Kremlin’s expansion plans; The Baltic State Technology University ‘Voenmech’ – Alma Mater of the Putin’s supporters and one of them is a future Russian Federal Security Service colonel general Grigoriev (right) together with a main humankind headache.
Now we know that he teaches at the ‘VoenMech’ Saint Petersburg Baltic State Technology University which trains specialists in the following areas: rocket and space technology, laser and space systems, political science and applied linguistics (one of the important military intelligence discipline). There are many graduates who work for the Russian security services and also belong to a close Putin circle – Head of the Parliament Sergey Naryshkin, a millionaire Gennadiy Timchenko, well known Vladimir Yakunin (ex-Head of the Russian state railroads), ex-Deputy Head of the Security Service colonel general Grigoriev, etc. So, we see what is a real reason of Grigoriev’s ‘ability to predict’.
A few of the anti-Belarus virtual communities (Source: a popular Russian social network ‘VKontakte’)
A so-called West-Russia ideology is widely presented in the popular Russian social network ‘VKontakte’. All of these sources – ‘We are the White Rus patriots’, ‘West-Russian Renaissance’, ‘West Rus’, ‘The Russian advocacy. Great, Little, and White Rus’, ‘Panrussism’, and ‘Red Rus’ – welcome a unity with the Russian Federation.
It would be a wise approach not to relax and pay attention to all of the above mentioned facts considering an important role of media (especially those ones managed by professional demagogues). One should remember that it only took 15 years for Putin to transform the Russian society into something similar to what the Kim dynasty did to the North Korea in seventy years.
Selected pages from the Russian social network ‘VKontakte’ used to stimulate anti-West and anti-democratic tendencies among the Belarus people – ‘Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus for anti-Maidan’, ‘Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus against svidomoj shpa’, ‘Anti-Maydan / Belarus’, and ‘Red Belarus’.
In October 2012 a ‘United Belarus’ party was established (it is still not registered). The name is similar to the Russian fellow ‘United Russia’ party. Michael Golubev is a leader and he is connected to the Aleksandr Dugin ‘The Russian truth’ movement. This party is not governed from Minsk (but rather from Vitebsk, which is an allegedly ‘disputable territory’), and its flag looks pretty much the same as the recently annexed Crimean one. One will find the certain symptoms here…
The ‘United Belarus’ flag (a party which can be described as a sibling to the Russian ‘United Russia’) and its Head M. Golubev. Right: an official emblem of the future ‘Union State of Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan’. Bellow: the Eurasian Union map; according to the plan it will include Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Armenia, occupied (by Russia) Georgian territories, most parts of Ukraine (except Volyn and Halitsia), and even Serbia and Bulgaria.
It would be wrong to say that a possible territorial loss is the only threat for Belarus; there are ideas to increase its territory. The public opinion is tested regarding to add Kaliningrad region and a corridor close to Grodno. This marvelous thought was announced 25 years ago, and there was its recurrence in 2013-12014 when certain media ran stories and mentioned many known names and leaders of these two countries. But President Lukashenko was able to see a trap and later (in December 2014) already declined the ideas and ‘jokes’.
Actually it is not for the first time in the Russian history to talk about giving away territories belonged not to Russia (as well as to require to return ‘the gifts’). Based on the agreement dated July 12, 1920, Russia ‘presented’ Lithuania with Grodno, Shchuchin, Lida, Oshmiany with Smorgonia, Miadel, Ostrovets, Vraslav with Postavy, and one could wonder what would that mean? All of these places were recognized by Moscow because they were Polish. Yes, Vilnius was obtained as well but the price paid by the country was high: it lost independence for a half of the century. Thank you. It was different time. Let’s see what are the most important things to be considered?
Here is what the Putin’s ‘expert’ R. Ishchenko offers to have instead of the current Baltic states: Estonia without Tallinn, Latvia divided into 2 parts without Riga, and Lithuania without Vilnius and Klaipeda. It looks like Kaliningrad region with Klaipeda and Vilnius regions and a narrow corridor between them in the South Lithuania are offered to Belarus
We should mention two authors here: antisemitic Robert Mazhitov and Rostislav Ishchenko who served as an Adviser to the Ukrainian President and Head of the Center on systematic analysis and prognosis in the past. Since 2013 this Center cooperates with the Russian institute of strategic research of the Russian President Administration.
‘The Strategies’ R. Ishchenko and R. Mazhitov
This detailed map presented by Ishchenko shows a corridor between the Kaliningrad region and Grodno, and it is tough not to believe to such informed specialist. Ishchenko also ‘predicts’ that NATO alliance will be tested by Russia when parts of the Baltic countries will be occupied (and its capitals). According to his map the supposed Russian Vilnius and Klaipeda regions and a corridor will be given to Russia (or Belarus); we can again think about Shelyagovich and his ‘federal region’ from Kaliningrad to Smolensk.
Mazhitov ¬is another ‘expert’ who offers to divide Lithuania. His ideas include: a “Russian Klaipeda People’s Republic” in the west, a ‘Russian’ Ignalinskaya and ‘Russian-Polish’ Vilenskaya “people’s republics” in the east, and between – mysterious ‘free economic zones’, which should become the ‘international manufacturing ‘polygons’.
It might be a simple coincidence but the content of the Wikipedia entries (the Russian and Belarusian) described Klaipeda city were changed in March-June, 2015. According to the edited versions the city belonged to the Kaliningrad region before it was given to Lithuanian Soviet Republic. It means that somebody was interested in this change. And there is no a need to explain on the consequences of such games for Belarus.
Just recently another author Eduard Birov (known also using his another pseudonym – ‘Russian boy’) published an article with a pretty scaring title: ‘It is time for Minsk to define its position’. It was published on a pro-Putin Internet source ‘Vzgliad’ (The View), and a referendum to be held together with the Fall 2015 election was offered. The supposed referendum should raise the question on the inclusion of Belarus to Russia as ‘a special autonomy’. According to the author if it is not done the country might not exist any longer as President ‘Lukashenko should either give away his power (who will get it?) or ‘sell himself to the West’. It is a twisted logic, isn’t it?
‘Russian boy’ E. Birov who declared a pro-Putin ultimatum to President Lukashenko and S. Lushch who ‘represented Belarus’ at the inaugural meeting of the ‘Russian International’.
We should keep in mind that Eduard Birov is not only an editor of the chauvinistic web portal ‘Russia Forever’ but also serves as an expert of the ‘Center in political thought and ideology’ which is managed by the already mentioned Vladimir Yakunin. So, this ‘Russian boy’ was not delivering his own thoughts and ideas but he rather made public something, which some serious gentlemen used to discuss behind the doors.
Posters advertising the Eurasian unity. On the first one the official Ukrainian symbols have been replaced by the ‘Novorossiya’ ones.
These ‘Russian boys’ did not disappear. For example, Sergey Lushch on February 19, 2014, took part in creation of the ‘Russian International’ representing Belarus, the ‘Republican Civil Union ‘Rus’’. There is probably no need to explain what is the main goal of this organization ‘RusIntern’ headed by Dmitriy Rogozin (Deputy Head of the Russian Government).
One may say that all of these are only the guesses which required to be proved. But I believe that currently there is enough of dangerous signals to act more careful and pay attention. This will help to monitor the situation, find new evidences, which would be very helpful at the upcoming international tribune.
Original article by Imantas Melianas, ethno conflictologist (Vilnius)