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Do not forget Belarus’s involvement in Russia’s war in Ukraine

After almost half a year into Russia’s military campaign against Ukraine it remains crucial to keep Belarus accountable for its participation.

August 12, 2022 - Mark Temnycky - Articles and Commentary

Current flag of Belarus paraded on the Red Square in Moscow. Photo: NickolayV / Shutterstock

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has been catastrophic. According to the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence, over 40,000 Russian soldiers have died. Thousands of pieces of Russian military hardware have been destroyed, and the war has cost the Russians billions of dollars. These figures do not come close, however, to the pain and suffering that has been experienced by Ukraine. According to reports, nearly 15 million Ukrainians have become displaced. Tens of thousands of Ukrainian civilians and soldiers have perished, and numerous cities and villages have been destroyed. Despite this death and destruction, the Russian invasion continues with no apparent end in sight.

As the war enters its fifth month, the international community has supported Ukraine by sending financial, humanitarian, medical and defence aid. The Ukrainians have used this equipment to push back Russian forces, and they are using it to rebuild Ukraine.

In addition to this assistance, the international community has put pressure on the Russian Federation by implementing various forms of punishment. To date, several countries have imposed economic sanctions on Russia, several Russian banks have been removed from the SWIFT system, and many Russian oligarchs and politicians have had their assets frozen. Russia has also been expelled from various political and sporting organisations. In addition, a number of countries have banned Russian commercial flights from entering their airspace, and have barred Russian ships from docking in their ports. Finally, over one thousand companies have terminated or suspended their business operations in Russia.

While the international community continues to pressure Russia, it should not ignore Belarus. Over the past five months, Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has allowed Russian President Vladimir Putin to use Belarus as a staging ground for the Russian invasion. Russia has launched numerous airstrikes from Belarusian territory into Ukraine. Perhaps Putin hoped these antics would force the Ukrainians to retaliate against Belarus, but Ukraine has held firm, instead focusing entirely on defending the country against Russia. Ukraine’s ability to successfully counter a full-scale Russian invasion has left Putin weary. As a result, the Russian president has attempted to coerce Lukashenka into sending Belarusian troops into Ukraine. Despite Putin’s attempts, this has come to no avail.

This, however, does not mean that Belarus should not be punished. By presenting Putin with a base of operations for his illegal and unnecessary invasion of Ukraine, Lukashenka is guilty by association. Rather than condemning the war, the Belarusian president has repeatedly stated that he supports Russia’s actions in Ukraine. The international community should also impose strict sanctions on the Belarusian government for its involvement in the war, and its decision to aid and abet Russia.

What might the West do to stop Belarus’s involvement in Russia’s war in Ukraine?

First, like Russia, the international community should cancel flight and travel operations with Belarusian organisations. Countries should also ban Belarusian commercial flights from entering their airspace. This would put a damper on Belarusian business, and Belarus’s economy.

Second, the international community should remove Belarus from political and sporting organisations. Belarusian athletes have already been banned from multi-sport competitions, but the punishments should go further. For example, the Union of European Football Associations has ordered Belarusian football clubs and national teams to play their home matches in neutral venues outside the country. Instead, UEFA should implement a complete Belarusian ban from international football competitions. In the political arena, Belarus should face similar measures. The Council of Europe has suspended its relations with Belarus following the Russian invasion of Ukraine; other international bodies should follow suit.

Finally, the Belarusian government should be punished for supporting Russia’s invasion. Like Russia, Belarusian banks should be cut off from SWIFT. This would hurt the Belarusian economy and force Lukashenka to rethink his support for Russia. In addition, the international community should continue to seize dirty money and property from Belarusian oligarchs and government officials.

For months Lukashenka has acted as if he is an intermediary between Russia and Ukraine in the continued conflict. But the facts show otherwise – Lukashenka has enabled Putin to continue his invasion, and has provided Russian troops a place of sanctuary during the war. Lukashenka therefore also bears responsibility for Russian war crimes in Ukraine, and his regime should be held accountable. Implementing stiffer penalties on the Belarusian government may force Lukashenka to rethink his support for Putin, and alter Belarus’s position on the invasion. It might just give Ukraine the tilt it needs to win the war.

Mark Temnycky is an accredited freelance journalist covering Eastern Europe and a nonresident fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center. He can be found on Twitter @MTemnycky

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