.
D

espite being Moscow’s only ally in Europe, Belarus has still not actively joined Russia’s war in Ukraine. Although Minsk provides logistical support to the Russian troops stationed in the former Soviet republic, Belarusian authorities seem to have preserved a significant degree of autonomy in their relations with the Kremlin. How will cooperation between the two allied nations develop in 2023?

The Russian and Belarusian presidents, Vladimir Putin and Alexander Lukashenko, respectively, have met eight times in 2022. Only one meeting took place in Belarus.  On 19 December 2022, the Russian leader made a rare visit to Minsk to discuss with Lukashenko not only the Ukraine war, but also bilateral issues between Russia and Belarus. It was Putin’s first trip to Minsk since 2019—before the COVID-19 pandemic and large-scale anti-government protests in Belarus in 2020, which Lukashenko managed to crush with strong support from Moscow.

Speaking at a joint press conference, the Russian president said the Kremlin did not want to "absorb" anyone. His statement came following frequent reports that Moscow apparently aims to incorporate Belarus into the Russian Federation. In reality, despite having strong political leverage, Russia has not managed to force Minsk to significantly deepen Belarus’ integrations into the Russia Belarus Union State—a supranational union consisting of the two allied nations. Although Lukashenko remains politically, militarily and financially dependent on the Kremlin, he preserved remnants of the country’s sovereignty. 

In 2021, the two leaders created a 28-point road map for closer integration into the Russia Belarus Union State. The roadmap includes coordination on monetary, credit and macroeconomic policies, as well as having common policies on energy, industry, agriculture, among others.

“As of today, we have carried out some 600 of the almost 1,000 integration projects scheduled for implementation until 2023,” Putin stressed on 19 December.

However, to this day, the two nations have not created a sustainable monetary union, given that no common currency has ever been introduced, even though back in 2004 Putin and Lukashenko reportedly agreed to launch a joint currency by 2006. Moreover, they never created supranational governing bodies such as a union government, parliament and a unified judiciary system. In Putin’s view, unspecified "enemies" wanted to stop Russia's integration with Belarus.

In reality, Russia’s debacle in Ukraine has given Lukashenko more space for political maneuvers that allowed him to preserve the status quo in his relations vis-à-vis the Kremlin. Following the unexpected death of Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei in late November, the Belarusian president has appointed Sergey Aleinik—who is believed to have pro-Western political views—as the country's new foreign minister. Given that the late Makie was often described as “the most pro-Western Belarusian official,” it is entirely possible that Aleinik will at least attempt to continue implementing Lukashenko’s well-known “multi-vector” foreign policy.

Over the years, the Belarusian leader has been trying to balance between Russia and the West. In early 2008, Timothy Bell, the head of the council of the British Chime Communications company, concluded a contract with the Belarusian government that aimed to improve the image of the country in the international arena. Lukashenko decided to make such a move following the 2006 presidential election, when the European Parliament labeled Belarus as “the last dictatorship in Europe.” Indeed, until the 2020 controversial election, Lukashenko was relatively successfully “sitting on two chairs.” In February 2020, he even met with the then US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo in Minsk, while in 2019 he ended his European isolation by visiting Austria. Previously, in 2014 and 2015, the Belarusian capital served as the place where Russian, Ukrainian and European officials signed agreements that effectively prevented the escalation of the Donbass war. At least until 24 February 2022, when Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

At the present time, despite being Russia’s ally in the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), Belarus does not actively participate in Moscow’s actions in the eastern European country. Reports, however, suggest that Minsk is ready to create a joint grouping of the Armed Forces of Belarus and the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation of any composition and any size. Does that mean that Belarus will eventually get directly involved in Russia’s war in Ukraine?

Despite frequent meetings between Putin and Lukashenko, as well as a protocol on amendments to the agreement on joint regional security the two countries signed on 3 December 2022, at this point there are no indications that Belarusian army will join the Russian forces in Ukraine, nor that Russia will reinvade the Eastern European country from Belarusian territory. Presently, the number of Russian troops in Belarus is rather low—around 10,000—and the Belarusian military does not seem to have capacity to conduct any offensive actions in the heavily fortified regions of northwestern Ukraine. 

Thus, for the time being, Russia will likely continue using Belarus as a threat to Ukrainian authorities, aiming to prevent Kyiv from deploying a significant number of troops from the north and the west of the country to the Donbass or the south. Politically, Moscow is expected to preserve Belarus in its geopolitical orbit, at least for the foreseeable future. The former Soviet republic’s long-term future, though, will almost certainly depend on the outcome of the Ukraine war.

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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Can Belarus Revive its ‘Multi-Vector’ Foreign Policy?

March of Peace and Independence, Minsk, Belarus, August 2020. Photo by Andrew Keymaster on Unsplash


January 9, 2023

Belarus has for years sought a balance between sustaining its independence from Russia while still deepening their relations. Against all expectations, Russia's invasion of Ukraine has made that easier, not more difficult, for Lukashenko to accomplish, writes Nikola Mikovic.

D

espite being Moscow’s only ally in Europe, Belarus has still not actively joined Russia’s war in Ukraine. Although Minsk provides logistical support to the Russian troops stationed in the former Soviet republic, Belarusian authorities seem to have preserved a significant degree of autonomy in their relations with the Kremlin. How will cooperation between the two allied nations develop in 2023?

The Russian and Belarusian presidents, Vladimir Putin and Alexander Lukashenko, respectively, have met eight times in 2022. Only one meeting took place in Belarus.  On 19 December 2022, the Russian leader made a rare visit to Minsk to discuss with Lukashenko not only the Ukraine war, but also bilateral issues between Russia and Belarus. It was Putin’s first trip to Minsk since 2019—before the COVID-19 pandemic and large-scale anti-government protests in Belarus in 2020, which Lukashenko managed to crush with strong support from Moscow.

Speaking at a joint press conference, the Russian president said the Kremlin did not want to "absorb" anyone. His statement came following frequent reports that Moscow apparently aims to incorporate Belarus into the Russian Federation. In reality, despite having strong political leverage, Russia has not managed to force Minsk to significantly deepen Belarus’ integrations into the Russia Belarus Union State—a supranational union consisting of the two allied nations. Although Lukashenko remains politically, militarily and financially dependent on the Kremlin, he preserved remnants of the country’s sovereignty. 

In 2021, the two leaders created a 28-point road map for closer integration into the Russia Belarus Union State. The roadmap includes coordination on monetary, credit and macroeconomic policies, as well as having common policies on energy, industry, agriculture, among others.

“As of today, we have carried out some 600 of the almost 1,000 integration projects scheduled for implementation until 2023,” Putin stressed on 19 December.

However, to this day, the two nations have not created a sustainable monetary union, given that no common currency has ever been introduced, even though back in 2004 Putin and Lukashenko reportedly agreed to launch a joint currency by 2006. Moreover, they never created supranational governing bodies such as a union government, parliament and a unified judiciary system. In Putin’s view, unspecified "enemies" wanted to stop Russia's integration with Belarus.

In reality, Russia’s debacle in Ukraine has given Lukashenko more space for political maneuvers that allowed him to preserve the status quo in his relations vis-à-vis the Kremlin. Following the unexpected death of Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei in late November, the Belarusian president has appointed Sergey Aleinik—who is believed to have pro-Western political views—as the country's new foreign minister. Given that the late Makie was often described as “the most pro-Western Belarusian official,” it is entirely possible that Aleinik will at least attempt to continue implementing Lukashenko’s well-known “multi-vector” foreign policy.

Over the years, the Belarusian leader has been trying to balance between Russia and the West. In early 2008, Timothy Bell, the head of the council of the British Chime Communications company, concluded a contract with the Belarusian government that aimed to improve the image of the country in the international arena. Lukashenko decided to make such a move following the 2006 presidential election, when the European Parliament labeled Belarus as “the last dictatorship in Europe.” Indeed, until the 2020 controversial election, Lukashenko was relatively successfully “sitting on two chairs.” In February 2020, he even met with the then US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo in Minsk, while in 2019 he ended his European isolation by visiting Austria. Previously, in 2014 and 2015, the Belarusian capital served as the place where Russian, Ukrainian and European officials signed agreements that effectively prevented the escalation of the Donbass war. At least until 24 February 2022, when Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

At the present time, despite being Russia’s ally in the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), Belarus does not actively participate in Moscow’s actions in the eastern European country. Reports, however, suggest that Minsk is ready to create a joint grouping of the Armed Forces of Belarus and the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation of any composition and any size. Does that mean that Belarus will eventually get directly involved in Russia’s war in Ukraine?

Despite frequent meetings between Putin and Lukashenko, as well as a protocol on amendments to the agreement on joint regional security the two countries signed on 3 December 2022, at this point there are no indications that Belarusian army will join the Russian forces in Ukraine, nor that Russia will reinvade the Eastern European country from Belarusian territory. Presently, the number of Russian troops in Belarus is rather low—around 10,000—and the Belarusian military does not seem to have capacity to conduct any offensive actions in the heavily fortified regions of northwestern Ukraine. 

Thus, for the time being, Russia will likely continue using Belarus as a threat to Ukrainian authorities, aiming to prevent Kyiv from deploying a significant number of troops from the north and the west of the country to the Donbass or the south. Politically, Moscow is expected to preserve Belarus in its geopolitical orbit, at least for the foreseeable future. The former Soviet republic’s long-term future, though, will almost certainly depend on the outcome of the Ukraine war.

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.