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    24 august

    What civil society research is funded by the Soros Foundation?

    Author: Nataliya Kiryuhina, no comments

    Now it is impossible not to write about the events in the Republic of Belarus – protest rallies, detentions, barricades, detainees, election results and so on.

    However, apart from the events of 2020, we need to talk about the research that was ordered and carried out by the International Renaissance Foundation (a Ukrainian charitable public organization that is part of the international network of Open Society Foundations and is funded by entrepreneur George Soros), in partnership with OSIFE and with financial support from the Swedish Embassy in Ukraine in 2019.

    The study has an interesting title which is currently being used by political observers, analysts, bloggers and social media users: “How can Russia’s policy towards Belarus affect regional security?” If the reader has a question about what kind of "regional security" – of course, we are talking about the regional security of Ukraine.

    I decided to acquaint my readers with the results of the research, those who commented, the nature of the comments, and why researchers considered this important back in 2019.

    At the very beginning of the study, the authors state that Russian-Belarusian contradictions reached their peak, and there were even talks about a possible scenario for the “absorption” of Belarus by Russia. The authors have no doubts that Russia's policy is aggressive and aimed at rapprochement with its neighboring state threatening not only the sovereignty of Belarus but regional security in general.

    The researchers turned only to familiar political analysts with one single question: "How can Russia’s policy towards Belarus affect regional security and how Ukraine and its Western partners should respond to these changes?"

    Basically, the content of the study contains answers by these "political analysts" to this question.

    Let’s have a look at what the International Renaissance Foundation and the Swedish Embassy in Ukraine deem as an expert conclusion on Belarusian-Ukrainian-Russian relations.

    Ryhor Nizhnikau, Senior Research Fellow at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs, believes that Belarus, being the main ally of Russia, remains an important element of the security system of its neighbors, including Ukraine as “it is unlikely to create new risks for regional security”, but at the same time he points out that the West must be prepared for various scenarios. Belarus, according to Ryhor Nizhnikau, must show that the regime is ready to conduct comprehensive reforms; he also expresses his own regret that the country rejected the IMF reform plan and did not start creating partnerships with Ukraine after 2014, continuing to mistrust the West.

    Another analyst, Gustav Gressel, Senior Policy Fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR), believes that Putin's pressure on Belarus is mounting on many directions at once: using the de facto dormant state-union treaty of 1997 as an excuse, Russian politicians are using the carrot-and-stick method in order to pressure Minsk into "quasi-colonial subordination." In the meantime, Lukashenko is still looking for ways to maneuver around, but he has much less options, however, he will not find support in the West. And then suddenly, contrary to all logic, Gustav Gressel predicts the impossible – “if Putin decides to crush Belarus, he can and will do it” and proves this by the fact that Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova and sooner or later Armenia have steered towards Europe. The rest towards China. And Belarus must understand that it cannot “survive in the middle.”

    In the media, this particular political analyst is well known as the author of the wild theory that rape in Europe is supervised by Russia and Syria, and these accusations that emerged in 2016 arouse doubts about his "analytical skills" in general.

    Andrew Wilson, Professor in Ukrainian Studies at University College London (UK), Senior Policy Fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR), believes that the increase in Russian influence on Belarus poses a direct threat to Ukraine's security.

    Moreover, he talks about redefining of what it means to be a “friend/ally of Russia”, considering that both Belarus and Armenia have never been traditional “balancers” and their foreign policy was not equidistant regarding both Russia and the West. Both countries were good at meeting Russia’s demands, at the same time maintaining their own sovereignty and a local power base. Russia expected too much from Yanukovych, Voronin and Dodon. The disconnect between the loyalty expected by Russia and what local leaders can actually deliver is in itself a security threat to the region.

    Arkady Moshes, Director of the EU Eastern Neighborhood and Russia Research Program at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs, outlined that even a hypothetical appearance of Russian military bases in the south of Belarus would objectively complicate the situation in Ukraine, but a similar effect could be achieved by strengthening Russian military potential in the southern direction of the Ukrainian-Russian border. This implies compensating for military bases in Belarus – by building up military bases in Kaliningrad.

    However, the expert directly recommends that the policy of the West towards Belarus should be aimed at economic reforms and political liberalization, claiming that only such methods can reduce economic dependence on Russia and, possibly, in the future "bring to power people with a type of thinking that differs from the mentality of the current leadership of the country."

    Another expert opinion in this study is the stance of Balazs Jarabik, a Non-Resident Scholar at Carnegie Europe, who, having analyzed Belarusian-Russian relations, believes that the Ukrainian crisis has changed regional dynamics, the attitude of Belarusians and internal polarization. The expert puts forward the idea that the West should welcome Minsk’s cautious balancing of powers and keep in mind that the authoritarian regime of Lukashenko sooner or later will face transition due to the leader’s age; moreover, the expert is convinced that “if Belarus needs to go West, it will be easier to do so without Lukashenko.”

    The opinion of Yauheni Preiherman, the only representative of the Republic of Belarus and Head of Minsk Dialogue Track-II Initiative (2019), is of particular interest.

    Brief reference.

    Yauheni Preiherman is a regular contributor to Eurasia Daily Monitor published by Jamestown Foundation (USA), Global Brief magazine (Canada), the European Council on International Affairs, as well as other Belarusian and foreign publications. His articles and comments have appeared in publications such as Foreign Policy, Strategic Europe, Kommersant, Vedomosti, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Guardian, Huffington Post and The Moscow Times.

    Yauheni Preiherman is a member of several professional and educational associations, including the Young Generation Leadership Network for Euro-Atlantic Security (YGLN), the OSCE Collective Security Initiative, the Chevening Alumni Network and the British International Studies Association (BISA). He is also a member of the Board at the Discussion and Analytical Society “Liberal Club” (Minsk), a member of the Advisory Board of the International Institute for Peace (Austria) and a member of the Expert Board of the Information Security Market Development Association "Cyberindustry" (Belarus).

    He unconditionally believes that “the conflict between the Republic of Belarus and Russia has unfolded not for the first or last time.”

    This was his viewpoint right away.

    Furthermore, he talks in detail about this conflict.

    At first, he considers that the conflict is due to “different understanding of integration projects” by Minsk and Moscow. As a result, in his opinion, “geopolitical tension” has emerged between Russia and the West, which aggravates and complicates Belarusian-Russian relations. However, according to the author, none of these so-called conflict factors are leading to “the imminent annexation of Belarus.”

    Furthermore, according to the Belarusian expert, Moscow would like to be sure that Minsk is in solidarity with it on all aspects of the confrontation with the West, however, participation in this geopolitical confrontation does not correspond to Belarusian interests, since this will lead to large economic costs and, in the worst-case scenario, direct clashes between NATO and Russian forces – Belarus would inevitably become a battleground.

    That is his opinion.

    Ultimately, Yauheni Preiherman cautiously hopes that the Belarusian government will do everything possible to “stay away from such confrontations.”

    I didn’t plan to comment on the situation in Belarus right away as I wanted to focus on what had preceded it – what the Soros Foundation pays for, what civil society research programs it funds, and how it invests funds. And in general to understand how such organizations operate so that everyone can draw conclusions for themselves.

    Rubrics: Hot comment

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