.
B

elarus is the only Moscow ally that participated in the Russian invasion of Ukraine. So far, President Alexander Lukashenko has managed to avoid deploying troops to the neighboring country, but unpredictable events could force him to make another political U-turn. 

The Belarusian leader has allowed the Kremlin to use his country’s territory in its war against Ukraine. Russia’s military continues to attack Kyiv mostly from the north, where thousands of troops have invaded Ukraine from Belarus. Moreover, Russia has launched missile strikes on Ukraine from Belarusian territory, which is why Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky initially refused to negotiate with the Russian officials in Belarus. Still, Ukraine eventually agreed to send its representatives to meet with the Russian delegation at the Belarusian border on February 27. Previously, Zelensky spoke with Lukashenko, which paved the way for peace talks. 

The Belarusian leader is trying to portray himself as a mediator, urging both parties to hold talks in Minsk. In reality, however, he hardly has much choice but to coordinate his actions with the Kremlin, especially now that Russian troops are on Belarusian soil. On February 6 he stressed that, in case of war, the Belarusian Armed Forces would act exactly the same way as the Russian Army. But on February 27, he promised to Zelensky that Belarus will not deploy its troops to the neighboring country. Yet, Ukrainian military experts believe that it is only a matter of time before Lukashenko orders Belarusian troops to take part in the Russian war against Ukraine.

Such an action could have enormous consequences for Belarusian society. Lukashenko—strongly supported by the Kremlin—managed to survive a turbulent 2020, when Belarus was paralyzed with mass protests and nationwide strikes following the controversial presidential election. After the authorities cracked down on protests, opposition leaders were either arrested or fled to the European Union. That, however, did not result in a complete elimination of the anti-Lukashenko movement. 

On February 27, the former Soviet republic held a constitutional referendum. Lukashenko’s ambition was to amend the constitution and stay in power until 2035, be it as a President or as a Chairman of the All-Belarusian People's Assembly—a new body that will operate in parallel with the parliament and will have a significant portion of power. At the same time, Lukashenko had to make concessions to the Kremlin and remove from the basic law clauses about Belarus' neutrality and non-nuclear status. This move would allow Russia to legally host nuclear missiles on the Belarusian territory, right next to NATO members Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia. Lukashenko, for his part, can count on the Kremlin’s support to stay in power in exchange for loyalty to Moscow. It is worth remembering that days before the referendum, the Belarusian leader promised to be “a president for life” if the West “continues to attack his country.” His wish may come true now that the constitution is changed. 

Given that not a single representative of Belarus' opposition parties was allowed to be a member of the referendum commission, no Western country will recognize the referendum results. Moreover, many Belarusians will continue to resist Lukashenko, one way or another. Although the authorities managed to defeat pro-Western opposition in 2020, during the referendum dozens of people in Minsk protested against Belarus’ de facto participation in Russia’s war against Ukraine. The authorities have, according to reports, arrested ten people, but the very fact that fragments of organized opposition in Belarus still exist suggests that Lukashenko may have a hard time dealing with the upcoming economic crisis that will very soon hit both his own country and Russia.

Given Belarus’ heavy dependence on the sanctions-hit Russia, particularly in the field of finance and energy, social turbulence in the Eastern European country could eventually lead to another wave of protests. Lukashenko’s security apparatus proved to be loyal to the Belarusian leader in 2020, which means that, if demonstrations break out, the security response is expected to be even more brutal than in the past. At this point, it is very probable that Belarus will remain “on the other side” of a new Iron Curtain, firmly in the Russian sphere of influence. 

Russian troops will remain on the Belarusian territory for an indefinite period. The era of Lukashenko’s balancing between Russia and the West is over, although he still occasionally attempts to preserve at least fragments of Belarus’ sovereignty. If, however, the Kremlin eventually pressures Minsk to actively participate in the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Lukashenko will have no choice but to deploy the Belarusian troops to Ukraine. Eventually, if the pressure from the Kremlin is strong enough, he may even recognize the Donbass republics, which is something he hinted at recently but is still hesitating to make the move. 

Indeed, the Russo-Ukrainian war has already made many tremendous changes in the world, but one thing will remain intact: Alexander Lukashenko will be the Belarusian President—at least for the foreseeable future. 

About
Nikola Mikovic
:
Nikola Mikovic is a freelance journalist, researcher and analyst based in Serbia covering foreign policy in Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.

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Belarus Will Feel the Consequences of the Russian Invasion of Ukraine

Palace of the Republic of Belarus on October square in Minsk. Image via Adobe Stock.

February 28, 2022

With Lukashenko's support of Russia's invasion of Ukraine and a Feb 27 constitutional referendum that forbid representation from opposition parties, Belarus is even more firmly in the Kremlin's orbit - and is likely to face domestic opposition as well as financial consequences, writes Nikola Mikovic

B

elarus is the only Moscow ally that participated in the Russian invasion of Ukraine. So far, President Alexander Lukashenko has managed to avoid deploying troops to the neighboring country, but unpredictable events could force him to make another political U-turn. 

The Belarusian leader has allowed the Kremlin to use his country’s territory in its war against Ukraine. Russia’s military continues to attack Kyiv mostly from the north, where thousands of troops have invaded Ukraine from Belarus. Moreover, Russia has launched missile strikes on Ukraine from Belarusian territory, which is why Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky initially refused to negotiate with the Russian officials in Belarus. Still, Ukraine eventually agreed to send its representatives to meet with the Russian delegation at the Belarusian border on February 27. Previously, Zelensky spoke with Lukashenko, which paved the way for peace talks. 

The Belarusian leader is trying to portray himself as a mediator, urging both parties to hold talks in Minsk. In reality, however, he hardly has much choice but to coordinate his actions with the Kremlin, especially now that Russian troops are on Belarusian soil. On February 6 he stressed that, in case of war, the Belarusian Armed Forces would act exactly the same way as the Russian Army. But on February 27, he promised to Zelensky that Belarus will not deploy its troops to the neighboring country. Yet, Ukrainian military experts believe that it is only a matter of time before Lukashenko orders Belarusian troops to take part in the Russian war against Ukraine.

Such an action could have enormous consequences for Belarusian society. Lukashenko—strongly supported by the Kremlin—managed to survive a turbulent 2020, when Belarus was paralyzed with mass protests and nationwide strikes following the controversial presidential election. After the authorities cracked down on protests, opposition leaders were either arrested or fled to the European Union. That, however, did not result in a complete elimination of the anti-Lukashenko movement. 

On February 27, the former Soviet republic held a constitutional referendum. Lukashenko’s ambition was to amend the constitution and stay in power until 2035, be it as a President or as a Chairman of the All-Belarusian People's Assembly—a new body that will operate in parallel with the parliament and will have a significant portion of power. At the same time, Lukashenko had to make concessions to the Kremlin and remove from the basic law clauses about Belarus' neutrality and non-nuclear status. This move would allow Russia to legally host nuclear missiles on the Belarusian territory, right next to NATO members Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia. Lukashenko, for his part, can count on the Kremlin’s support to stay in power in exchange for loyalty to Moscow. It is worth remembering that days before the referendum, the Belarusian leader promised to be “a president for life” if the West “continues to attack his country.” His wish may come true now that the constitution is changed. 

Given that not a single representative of Belarus' opposition parties was allowed to be a member of the referendum commission, no Western country will recognize the referendum results. Moreover, many Belarusians will continue to resist Lukashenko, one way or another. Although the authorities managed to defeat pro-Western opposition in 2020, during the referendum dozens of people in Minsk protested against Belarus’ de facto participation in Russia’s war against Ukraine. The authorities have, according to reports, arrested ten people, but the very fact that fragments of organized opposition in Belarus still exist suggests that Lukashenko may have a hard time dealing with the upcoming economic crisis that will very soon hit both his own country and Russia.

Given Belarus’ heavy dependence on the sanctions-hit Russia, particularly in the field of finance and energy, social turbulence in the Eastern European country could eventually lead to another wave of protests. Lukashenko’s security apparatus proved to be loyal to the Belarusian leader in 2020, which means that, if demonstrations break out, the security response is expected to be even more brutal than in the past. At this point, it is very probable that Belarus will remain “on the other side” of a new Iron Curtain, firmly in the Russian sphere of influence. 

Russian troops will remain on the Belarusian territory for an indefinite period. The era of Lukashenko’s balancing between Russia and the West is over, although he still occasionally attempts to preserve at least fragments of Belarus’ sovereignty. If, however, the Kremlin eventually pressures Minsk to actively participate in the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Lukashenko will have no choice but to deploy the Belarusian troops to Ukraine. Eventually, if the pressure from the Kremlin is strong enough, he may even recognize the Donbass republics, which is something he hinted at recently but is still hesitating to make the move. 

Indeed, the Russo-Ukrainian war has already made many tremendous changes in the world, but one thing will remain intact: Alexander Lukashenko will be the Belarusian President—at least for the foreseeable future. 

About
Nikola Mikovic
:
Nikola Mikovic is a freelance journalist, researcher and analyst based in Serbia covering foreign policy in Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.