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Putin has unleashed a new anti-colonial battle

Putin has unleashed a new anti-colonial battle

Putin has unleashed a new anti-colonial battle

Russia expels 40 German diplomats: ministry

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History is on a knife-edge. Nobody knows how it will end. Maybe the last and worst of the European empires, Russia, will crumble. Maybe it will absorb the blow and continue to grow as it has since the 17th century. You’d be foolish to doubt it. They are buried in Eurasia’s cemeteries.

From Syria to Central Asia, from Georgia to Moldova, Russia’s opponents are now able to ask that most revolutionary of questions: “What if?”

Worst case scenario: What if centuries-old structures could be blown apart like the creaking trucks in a Russian munitions convoy?

When you talk to people involved in the great anticolonial struggle of our time, you hear them go through the stages of revolutionary commitment. A journey from peaceful protest to jail sentences and the realisation that civil disobedience is never enough

Raising the stakes changes lives. Timur Mitskievich’s story echoes 20th century anticolonial protests. He was a teenager in Minsk in 2020 when Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko rigged the presidential election, as he had done since 1994. Opposition candidate Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya’s supporters staged the largest public demonstrations in Belarus’ history.

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The paradox of civil disobedience is that nonviolent tactics only work against oppressive regimes that can be persuaded to change. To hear Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, the British and US governments of the 1940s and 1960s had to confess their sins and prejudices. Lukashenko ignored his critics. He scared them. As long as he controlled the media, he was safe. He need not worry about the “international community’s” reaction after Vladimir Putin said he would keep the dictator in power if he gave up Belarus’s remaining independence. His country reverted to Russian colony status, which it had held since 1795.

Mitskievich, 17, joined the protests. The cops beat him so badly he went into a coma. During his absence, his mother died, leaving nine orphans.

The Belarusian and Russian regimes have no shame, so peaceful disobedience does not work.

Like Ukraine before 2014, Belarus is a country few Westerners know about. Today, it is known as the Russian base for the failed attack on Kiev. Belarus was dubbed “Europe’s last dictatorship” in the 1990s. Weirdness, we said. As the ideals of free markets and free societies progressed, it clung to Soviet-style rule.

Belarus was a model for the future, not a throwback. Russia became a client state of Russia, removing the limited freedoms granted to Russian citizens in the 2000s and emulating Lukashenko’s dictatorship.

To Belarus’ exiled opposition, Ukraine’s war is their war, and a Ukrainian victory could lead to radical change in Russian-controlled territories. The Ukrainian war has shown how Russian nationalists view eastern Slavs and reject them. Official Russian media explained that Ukrainians (and thus Belarusians) were Russians. They are “Nazis” if they reject Russian identity and claim their own cultures and histories pre-date the Russian empire. No human life could be worse. Forcing their children away from their parents and crushing their country and culture was the Russian state’s duty.

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He told me last week that revolution was the only option now. He spoke like an officer in an underground war, not a politician trying to reach a compromise. A “collaborationist state” was Lukashenko. Resistance cells sabotaged Belarusian railway lines to stop Russian troops and armour from reaching Ukraine.

In the Soviet era, Viaorka said, Moscow “recognised the Belarus and Ukrainian nations”. Putin brought a “new fascism” that denied their existence. The Belarusian opposition fought it covertly. It was trying to free the army from Lukashenko and Putin’s control. Belarus, like many other countries, hoped for a Ukrainian victory to “get out of the Russian sphere of influence”.

Since the end of the century’s silly season, we’ve learned not to be optimists. We expect brute force now. Clearly, the Russian military is corrupt and inept. But you can see the empire winning, as it always has, by hurling recruits into battle and terrorising civilians. Western intelligence predicts a long, grinding war with an uncertain outcome.

Despite this, there is a question in the air, if not optimism. Could Russia’s empire, which had partially crumbled in the 1990s, be crushed in the 2020s? Who knows, maybe it’ll all crumble.

Doctors released Mitskievich. He is now fighting in the Belarusian version of the Spanish International Brigades. Thousands of Belarusians volunteered to join the Kastu Kalinoski Battalion, named after an 1863 uprising leader. The battalion fought around Irpin. Its members will one day return to Belarus with military skills. They will have questions.

We need a small favour. Every day, millions of readers worldwide turn to the Guardian for free, independent news.

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We believe everyone should have access to accurate information and analysis based on authority and integrity. That’s why we made a different choice: to keep our reporting accessible to all readers, regardless of location or budget. So more people can be informed, united, and inspired to act.

A truth-seeking global news organisation like the Guardian is vital now. Because we have no shareholders or billionaire owners, our journalism is free of commercial and political influence. Our freedom allows us to investigate, challenge, and expose those in power.

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