Saturday, October 1

Lukashenko is dragging Belarus closer to a war that most of its citizens don’t want | Ryhor Astapenia

The Belarusian president, Alexander Lukashenko, has played a key role in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. He has allowed Russian convoys and troops to close in on Kyiv from Belarusian territory and provided military infrastructure, notably airbases that Russian warplanes are using to attack Ukraine. The country is being bombarded by rockets arriving from Belarusian territory.

Belarus’s dictator also provides political support for Russian aggression: Belarus voted against the resolution of the UN general assembly condemning the Russian invasion (alongside Russia, Syria, North Korea and Eritrea), and its state propaganda machine mirrors Russia’s in its justifications. Like its eastern neighbour, the Lukashenko regime is arresting and repressing those who dare protest against war.

Lukashenko continues to deny that Belarusian troops could be used in Russia’s invasion, although this could change in response to pressure from the Kremlin if Russia requires more support to police occupied Ukrainian territory or revitalize its stymied assaults.

The Kremlin’s potential use of the Belarusian army hinges on the extent to which Lukashenko has enough agency to make independent decisions. Belarus’s participation indicates that his independence is limited, as Minsk will pay a colossal price for his involvement – ​​a price that an independent politician would never accept for their country. It seems that Lukashenko was obliged to assist Putin after the Russian government rescued him in 2020: he was only able to remain in power thanks to massive repression and the Kremlin’s support, despite having lost the presidential election.

The Lukashenko regime probably understands that direct involvement in the war will lead to even more severe western sanctions and international isolation. This means Belarus will only be able to develop political and economic ties with Russia, which will then be able to dictate its own terms. Therefore, the regime is at least attempting to refrain from full engagement in the war.

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The west views Lukashenko as a co-aggressor, and the sanctions imposed on Russia are partially being applied to Belarus as well. A significant portion of Belarusian exports to western countries, including petroleum products, are now subject to an embargo. Adding to this burden, many enterprises are under sanction and have lost market confidence, a large proportion of Belarusian IT workers and western companies have already left, logistics chains have been ruptured and the Belarusian rouble is rapidly devaluing. An economic crisis you have already begunand it remains to be seen whether the Kremlin will allocate funds to Minsk in order to mitigate the fallout.

Although sanctions are less severe – as Belarus is perceived as an accomplice rather than an initiator – they are nevertheless unprecedented. However, sanctions against Minsk will need to be aligned with those imposed on Moscow in order to prevent Russian companies from circumventing them via Belarus.

Sociological research conducted by Chatham House last month indicated that most Belarusians do not want their country to participate in this war, and they believe that Belarusian involvement will have catastrophic ramifications. At the same time, Belarusians can be divided into two groups based on whom they support.

The first group gets most of its information from state television, and supports Russia. The second group receives news from the independent media, and supports Ukraine. The first backs Lukashenko, the second opposes him. About 1,000 Belarusians have already been arrested for peacefully protesting; others are sabotaging infrastructure used by the Russian military. Hundreds more are joining volunteer detachments of the Ukrainian army.

Despite their divisions over Russia itself, however, most Belarusians are united in their objection to the war into which Lukashenko has dragged them. Whether they can make their voices heard or will be silenced again remains to be seen.

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