Why does Belarus support Russia and how is it involved in Ukraine?
Belarus, the authoritarian state north of Ukraine, appears to be playing an increasingly important supporting role in Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Russia’s western neighbor.
Having already welcomed 30,000 Russian troops for military exercises ahead of Mr Putin’s declaration of war a week ago, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has since allowed the aggressor’s planes to take off from airports in his country, amended the constitution to allow the harboring of Russian strategic nuclear weapons and was accused by the Ukrainian parliament of having moved forces towards Chernihiv.
Mr Lukashenko denied the latter allegation, but said he would deploy new troops to the border to “stop any provocation against Belarus”.
Baselessly accusing embattled Ukraine and its supporters of engaging in “provocation” is a direct reading of Mr. Putin’s script and follows Mr. Lukashenko, increasingly a puppet of the Kremlin, blaming harsh Western sanctions for “ push Russia into a Third World War”. .
On Wednesday, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution signed by 141 member states condemning Russia’s war, with only five countries signaling support: Russia itself, North Korea, Syria, Eritrea and Belarus. Good company to be.
Mr Lukashenko’s nation has already been sanctioned by the UK, US and EU, its athletes have been expelled from the upcoming Paralympic Games in China and the US State Department has closed its embassy in Minsk in opposition to Belarusian military collaboration with Moscow, which are close enough that the president inadvertently revealed a map showing likely future Russian military operations, including one from Odessa to Moldova.
Asked on Sunday about the possibility of Belarus becoming a Russian nuclear outpost for the first time since the collapse of the USSR in 1989, Mr Lukashenko warned Western allies against military intervention in Ukraine, saying: “ If you transfer nukes to Poland or Lithuania, to our borders, then I will look to Putin to return the nukes I donated without any conditions.
In response, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky implored Mr Lukashenko to stay out of the conflict and Belarus to defend itself.
“We are your neighbours,” he said. “Be Belarus, not Russia! You are making that choice right now.
But for EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell, it is already too late.
“Minsk is now an extension of the Kremlin,” he said this week.
One of the main reasons for the close ties between Belarus and Russia is Mr Lukashenko himself, a Soviet backslider who rose through the ranks and was the only member of the Belarusian parliament to oppose the agreement which has led to the formal dissolution of the USSR in December 1991.
He then appealed to Boris Yeltsin and the Russian Duma for a new union of Slavic states at a time when the map of Europe was being drastically redrawn and other former satellite states held behind the Iron Curtain were celebrating their independence. found and dared to imagine a brighter world. tomorrow.
Mr Lukashenko has ruled his country with an iron fist since 1994, regularly accused of rigging votes, repressing his political opponents and silencing the media, at least two of which are tactics straight out of Vladimir Putin’s book.
In 1999, he began negotiations on a treaty providing for broad political cooperation with Moscow, taking the opportunity to generously extend his first term for another two years in order to make it happen.
While the kinship between Belarus and Russia has sometimes been helpful, such as when Minsk was chosen as the venue for peace talks in September 2014 and February 2015 between Russia, Ukraine and the separatist rebel leaders of Donetsk and Luhansk, it has most often given rise to concern.
Russia backed Mr Lukashenko when he faced the biggest challenge to his authority in 26 years in late summer 2020, which saw massive popular protests unfold outside Minsk’s Independence Palace and throughout the country and ended in a violent crackdown on protesters, mass arrests and the exile or imprisonment of his opponents.
His current lapdog loyalty could be a reward for this timely reinforcement or a sign of his country’s growing dependence on Russia given its economic fragility.
The Belarusian economy is struggling with unmanageable levels of public external debt at present, which may be only 30% of its gross domestic product, but is almost entirely held in US dollars.
Sanctions it already faced from the West in response to events 18 months ago have since barred Belarus from raising capital in international markets, meaning it relied on loans from Russia to help repay the £2.5billion it owes this year.
Moscow may not be able to answer that call after its own economy was hit by sanctions over the past week, forcing it to introduce capital controls and raise its interest rate as the public lined up to withdraw money from ATMs in anticipation of an upcoming calamity.
As analyst Katia Glod points out in an editorial for AlJazeeraBelarus holds £6.4 billion in gold and foreign exchange reserves, which may provide short-term support, but the ban on its potash fertilizer exports through Ukrainian and Lithuanian ports since 2020 continues to eat away at his reserves, costing him up to £748million in revenue a year.
Other countries may now shun Belarus’ exports because of its support for Mr Putin’s war, only further increasing its dependence on Moscow’s patronage.
These circumstances are increasingly forcing Mr. Lukashenko’s nation into submission to the Kremlin, leaving him with no choice but to obey Mr. Putin’s whims.
If Belarus refuses and sides with Mr. Zelensky, it faces not only economic disaster, but also the threat of retaliation by a rabid Russian bear.
Mr Putin has long resented the breakup of the Soviet Union and NATO’s “encroachment” on Eastern Europe and seems determined to nullify the independence of the old satellites and reestablish in the embrace of the motherland.
Even if he fails to secure a full victory over Ukraine, the Russian president can still annex the pro-Russian breakaway regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, whose claims to statehood he has formally acknowledged as a prelude and a pretext to his current assault on freedom. democratic nation of which they continue to be part.
Other nearby separatist regions could follow, such as South Ossetia and Abkhazia in Georgia, already the scene of Russian aggression in 2008, and perhaps Transnistria in Moldova.
Belarus could end up next on that list.
The Independent has a proud history of campaigning for the rights of the most vulnerable, and we launched our first campaign to welcome refugees during the war in Syria in 2015. Today, as we renew our campaign and launch this petition to Following the unfolding crisis in Ukraine, we are asking the government to go further and faster to ensure the delivery of aid. To learn more about our Welcome to Refugees campaign, Click here. To sign the petition, click here. If you would like to donate, please Click here for our GoFundMe page.