As the Ukraine war dominates world headlines, Russia quietly increases its influence and control in Belarus.
What can the West do to stop Putin’s aggressive expansionist plans?
Since 1994, President Lukashenko is the head of state in Belarus. The government is accused of repressing opposition regularly under his rule. Media outlets often refer to Lukashenko as “Europe’s last dictator”.
The protests of 2020-2021 in Belarus were the biggest anti-government demonstrations ever held by the country.
The riots were put down with the help of Russia.
Putin deferred the payment of debts to Belarus between August 2020 and February 20, 2022. This provided a lifeline for Lukashenko, who was already heavily indebted.
Russia provides gas to Belarus for a fraction the price of open market, which helps protect a leader who is becoming increasingly unpopular in Belarus from unrest at home.
Lukashenko, in return, has revisited the discussions on the Union State Treaty, a partnership without borders that would make Belarus, in essence, a “county” within Russia.
Belarusians are less likely than 25 percent to support Russia, and a recent poll found that fewer than 5 percent of Belarusians believe Belarus should fight alongside Russia against Ukraine.
Putin may not want Belarus become a vibrant democracy, but his military is under siege and would have a hard time capturing Belarus.
Putin, on the other hand, appears to be tightening up his grip on Lukashenko. Russia has conducted extensive military training in Belarus, and is basing Russian aircraft there.
Moscow also launched offensive operations against Ukraine on Belarus soil, and has, more recently, agreed to the deployment of tactical nuclear weapons in the country.
Lukashenko also asked for security guarantees from Sergei Shoigu, the Russian Defence Minister during a recent visit.
NATO, a defensive alliance, does not pose a threat to Belarus.
Russia uses Lukashenko as a tool to present itself as the sole guarantor for peace and security in Belarus, while also justifying the increase of Russian military presence. Putin could be annexing Belarus slowly and stealthily.
How does Belarus resist the Russian invasion? How would a Belarusian revolt gain traction if the Russian military was overstretched?
The annexation of Belarus would have far-reaching consequences.
Ukraine’s security on the long term would be complicated and would risk destabilising neighboring countries like Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.
Putin might claim that the “special operation” in Ukraine is a success. He may even suggest that it’s a sideshow.
What could the West possibly do?
Belarus is not part of NATO, so it’s unlikely that Lukashenko will appeal for Western help.
The West has very limited options to intervene, despite the sanctions.
Zelenskyy appealed for assistance in the fight for independence in the West. Is Putin now using the conflict to Ukraine to stifle the West’s appetite to intervene militarily if the West ever prepares to annex Belarus.