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The Russo-Belarusian Union State is here

Belarus continues to play a low-level yet crucial part in the ongoing war in Ukraine. While the Russian military sends troops to the country, it is also firing missiles at Ukraine from Belarusian territory. It is increasingly clear that the very independence of the country is now under threat. 

April 27, 2023 - Mark Temnycky - Articles and Commentary

Celebrations of the unity of the peoples of Russia and Belarus in the VDNKh park in Moscow in April 2022. Photo: Aleksey Dushutin / Shuttestock

As the Russian invasion of Ukraine enters its second year, Russia has relied heavily on Belarus to contribute to its war effort. When the war began, the Belarusian government allowed Russian soldiers to stay in Belarus, using the country as a launch pad during the initial stages of the invasion. Since then, the Russians have continuously transferred weaponry and equipment to Belarus, and launched missile and air strikes across the border.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has also tried to pressure Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka into sending Belarusian soldiers into Ukraine, but these attempts have failed. Lukashenka understands that “there is no domestic support for a war.” Recent public opinion polls in Belarus have shown that Belarusian citizens do not support Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Outside of the general public, numerous Belarusian military officials have declared that they are also against the war.

While Lukashenka has held his ground on this point, Russia seeks to escalate the war by other means. During a recent meeting between Putin and Lukashenka, the leaders announced a plan that would see Russia deploy nuclear weapons in Belarusian territory. While the statements may be nothing more than posturing, it suggests that Belarus has fallen a long way.

When Belarus held its presidential elections in 2020, exit polls falsely stated that Lukashenka had won by a large margin. Tens of thousands of citizens protested this farce of an outcome, and the Belarusian opposition submitted appeals to the Belarusian Central Election Commission. Hundreds of peaceful demonstrators were arrested, and the Belarusian Central Election Commission ignored their pleas. But these developments left Lukashenka on edge, and he requested Putin’s assistance.

What followed was a series of events that slowly saw Belarus lose its sovereignty. During the initial stages of the protests in August 2020, Russia sent reporters from state television to replace Belarusian anchors at various Belarusian media outlets. This was designed to spread Russian news narratives and propaganda throughout Belarus. Then, several high-ranking Russian officials met with Lukashenka to assure him that the situation would be brought under control. At the time, Russia pledged a 1.5 billion US dollar loan to Belarus. In addition, the Russians have continued to purchase Belarusian goods, and this has left Belarus heavily reliant on Russia for trade and commerce. In other words, the Russians have helped “subsidize the Belarusian economy”. These actions suggest Russia has now fully asserted itself in Belarusian society through politics and economics.

The second most recent example of this influence is how Russia used hard power to assert itself in Belarus. Aside from using Belarus as a base of operations during the ongoing invasion of Ukraine, Russia has also held countless training exercises to ensure that the Belarusian army is interoperable with the Russian army. Russian forces, along with their military equipment and hardware, continue to arrive and ultimately stay in Belarus. Since Russia is using Belarus to send troops, equipment and weapons into Ukraine, one could suggest that these Russian forces are occupying Belarus. While Lukashenka has allowed the Russians to use his country’s territory, it must be stressed that these particular Russian forces are actively engaged in a war.

Finally, a recently leaked Russian document reportedly outlined plans for the Russian Federation to take over Belarus. According to a report by Yahoo News, the leaked document stated that Russia would seek to usurp Belarus through “political, economic, and military means”. The document also indicated that Russia hopes to fully incorporate Belarus by 2023.

The points above suggest that this effective annexation is occurring. Lukashenka seems to be tied to Putin. Belarusian news stations have now been infiltrated by Russian propaganda. Meanwhile, Lukashenka and his administration have sought advice from Putin and his government to ensure that they stay in power. The Belarusian president knows that political backing from Russia is now the only reason why he remains in power. In addition, his actions have been rewarded by Russia through loans and financial deals. Finally, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and Belarus’s involvement to date, suggest that Lukashenka no longer has control over his nation’s sovereignty.

Overall, it appears that Putin’s plans are in motion, and that Belarus is slowly moving closer into Russia’s sphere of influence. The Belarusian opposition must continue to do everything it can to change this situation. It is crucial that Belarus becomes a free, sovereign, independent and democratic state. But for now, Russia’s continued meddling and influence suggest that time is running out.

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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