This is the title of an op-ed article written by Michael Bociurkiw who is a global affairs analyst and a former spokesman for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. He wrote this:

“With mass protests erupting in Belarus over a disputed presidential election on Sunday, after which incumbent Alexander Lukashenko claimed a landslide victory, the Kremlin must be watching nervously.

Thousands have been arrested in the former Soviet republic and heavily armed Belarusian security forces are on the streets. The leading opposition candidate, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, has fled to neighboring Lithuania. Internationally, the reaction has been a mix, from Western governments warning against violent suppression of protesters (the United States, the European Union, NATO and many European neighbors have sounded that alarm) to a congratulatory note from Chinese President Xi Jinping.

In contrast, Russian President Vladimir Putin called for Lukashenko to resume stalled integration plans to join Belarus and Russia into one country.

Putin’s comment on Belarus is clearly intended to stop that country’s drift to the West, and we should take it as a subtle warning to Lukashenko to not stray from Moscow’s orbit. Not exactly a shot across the bow, but it would be foolhardy to underestimate Moscow’s willingness to respond with force – just ask neighboring Ukraine.

That is because what Russia fears most is Maidan-style protests which rocked Ukraine for several months in 2013–2014 and led to the removal of the pro-Moscow President, Viktor Yanukovych. Those protests were sparked by Ukraine’s agreement to develop closer trade ties with the European Union and Yanukovich’s withdrawal from that agreement after a meeting with Putin.

Belarus has been cooperating with the EU, but its ties with Russia are deep and not likely to diminish, and it would behoove everyone to remember this recent history of Putin seeing pro-Western protests in a neighboring country and responding with force. When protests in Kiev set Ukraine back on the road toward integration with Europe, it was quickly followed by a Russian invasion.

With protests arising now in Belarus, conflict in Ukraine still simmering, and the world distracted by Covid-19, it’s worth examining what these dynamics mean for Putin and whether another brazen act is on the horizon.

The time for another land grab is ripe

This is not the first time pundits have warned Putin may swoop in and escalate the conflict with an “August surprise.” And this time, they may be right. The time for a land grab is ripe.

Ukrainian officials have been quoted as saying that Russia is building up personnel and firepower in Crimea and along eastern Ukraine. While it is difficult to corroborate such reports – especially since OSCE monitors have been blocked many times at rebel-controlled checkpoints and are being given very limited access at an observation point on the Ukraine-Russia border – the geopolitical landscape appears perfect for Putin to either expand his sphere of influence or intervene to keep a weak client state such as Belarus in the fold.

Alarm bells should be going off in Western capitals.

Here’s why. Putin likely feels emboldened by the success of his latest consolidation of power at home, through a recent constitutional change which extends his hold on power until 2036.

And with Russia struggling to fight the Covid-19 pandemic and with its economy in the doldrums, there’s no more perfect time to fire up the public than by reclaiming sovereign lands which Russia regards as its own. After all, it worked before with the invasions of Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014.”