Russo-Ukrainian War 5/15/22

A Belarusian protestor during the 2020 election protests, carrying the opposition flag of Belarus. (Image via Jana Shnipelson)

Lukashenko has continued his rather measured approach to Russia’s failure in Ukraine, which arose after Russia’s disastrous rout from Kyiv.

A rather unreliable ally, Lukashenko has previously had trouble with Putin during the ‘Milk Wars’, and was seen as an untrustworthy if not antagonistic troublemaker. Lukashenko has struck a balance between Russification and re-assurance of a Belarusian national identity, particularly in the wake of the 2014 annexation of Crimea.

But Belarus’ 2020 election protests provided a remarkable opportunity for Putin, who could secure Lukashenko’s loyalty in return for flooding Minsk with Russian riot police, quelling the protests, and securing the autocrat’s rule.

Now, with Putin increasingly calling upon his counterpart to ‘fulfill his obligations,’ Lukashenko has increasingly seen ‘paying off’ his debt to Russia as unfeasible. A few of his actions have been rather noteworthy; whether showing clear maps of Russian invasion plans, including an invasion of Moldova, distancing himself from the war by describing “Putin’s” military operation, or even praising the effectiveness of Ukraine’s special forces, claiming that Belarus’ military could learn a lot from them.

In many ways, they can, but perhaps not in ways that Lukashenko may find agreeable. The Kastuś Kalinoŭski Battalion, a foreign brigade in Ukraine numbering anywhere from 500-1000 Belarusians, has made very clear its intentions to bring the fight to Belarus upon liberating Ukraine, their own motto being “First Ukraine, then Belarus”. Belarusian opposition leaders have consistently expressed the view that the war in Ukraine was crucial to Belarus, with exiled Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya on Radio Free Europe reiterating her belief that “There cannot be a free Belarus without a free Ukraine”.

Though dodging Western sanctions, and what would likely be the end of his reign, Lukashenko is certainly not a neutral participant; Belarus was used as a staging ground for the Kyiv offensive, and numerous missile launches have continued from the territory. If Lukashenko were truly commited to neutrality and upholding Belarus’ sovereignty, he would work with his military to expulse Russian troops, an action he has evidently not taken out of fear for his rule.

Per British intelligence, Belarusian special forces have ammased on the border with Ukraine for military exercises, but are unlikely to join the war, and contrary to previous statements, have not participated directly in fighting.

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