When Russia launched a large-scale war of aggression against Ukraine on February 24 of this year, Russian forces invaded the country from Russia-annexed Crimea in the south, Russia-controlled Donbass in the east and Russia-allied Belarus in the north.
Since then, Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko has continued to allow Vladimir Putin’s ruthless war machine to fire missiles into Ukraine from Belarusian soil.
Now the President of Russia will want more direct support from Lukashenko and his armed forces for the war in Ukraine, Ukrainian intelligence claims.
Civil war and regime change
If Lukashenko bows to Putin’s will, the outcome could be disastrous.
– It could lead to civil war in Belarus. And since Putin has no powers to deal with, it could quickly lead to a power grab in Minsk, Belarus, Ukraine and Russia expert Arve Hansen, an advisor to the Helsinki Committee, tells Dagbladet.
Belarus is the only ally of Russia in the war against Ukraine, but the alliance is not the result of agreement, but subordination.
When Alexander Lukashenko once again falsified the results of the 2020 presidential election, the people of Belarus had enough. At one time, a million Belarusians took to the streets, demanding the resignation of the dictator.
For several years, Lukashenko successfully played the West and Russia against each other, but in order to ensure his survival, the dictator had to take refuge in Russia – forever.
With Putin’s help, Lukashenko severely suppressed the demonstrations. Since then, Lukashenko has been completely dependent on Putin and Russia.
Depends on Putin
If Putin wishes to pressure Lukashenko to participate more actively in the war in Ukraine, he has several potential means of pressure up his sleeve.
Belarus is completely dependent on subsidized Russian gas and loans, in addition, large parts of Belarusian exports are aimed at the Russian market. If Russia wants the economy of Belarus to collapse, it can do so far away. In addition, the two countries are well integrated militarily and culturally, so there are several ways to pressure those in power in Minsk, Hansen says.
However, Lukashenko holds one card in his hand that gives him room to breathe an arm’s length from Putin, says the Helsinki Committee adviser.
Belarus is Russia’s only ally in this war, and it would be a great symbolic loss for Putin if Lukashenko turned his back on him. Lukashenko is fully aware of this dependency and uses it for everything it deserves. Most likely, he was already under great pressure from Moscow, but he had not fully drawn them into the war yet, he said.
Interdependence, despite significant dominance in Putin’s favour, could explain Belarus’ initial participation in the war, Hansen believes, as it was earlier this fall. Publication of the critically acclaimed book “Ukraine – Stories. Humans. War”.
– That the Russians used Belarus as a staging area for the invasion and that they launch missiles from Belarusian soil seems like a compromise between the dictators, he says.
a little support
Hansen believes that the reason Belarus did not take an active part in the war in Ukraine is due to Lukashenko’s fear of a new Belarusian uprising.
Ukrainians and Belarusians have a very close relationship and very few Belarusians support Putin’s aggressive war against Ukraine, says Helsinki Committee advisor.
If Putin succeeds in forcing Lukashenko’s military forces onto the battlefield in Ukraine, this could have dire consequences for Lukashenko’s precarious position in Belarus.
In the short term, we will witness a new wave of sabotage against essential infrastructure. We are also likely to witness mass desertions and new protests in many cities. Many Belarusians also gained military experience after serving as volunteers in Ukraine’s defensive war against Russia. Hansen says they want – with Ukrainian support – to go home to fight Lukashenko.
In short, he imagines that the civil war and regime change in Belarus could end.
Russian President Vladimir Putin should know this, too, believes retired Lieutenant General Arne Bord Dahlhaug, who shares Hansen’s views.
The question then becomes how much risk Russia is willing to take. On the one hand, they could get a few more troops added, and on the other hand, the system could falter in Belarus, says Dahlhogue, who between 2016 and 2019 was a civilian observer for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). in Ukraine.
Putin’s nightmare scenario
Dalhaug thinks it is “obvious” that Putin wanted Belarus to play a more active role.
– But I’m also sure he understands that this is a double-edged sword. There is no support even among Lukashenko’s closest associates to more actively participate in the war.
So he is not sure whether the calculations will work out with Putin. If he pushes Lukashenko’s forces into Ukraine, he also envisions popular uprisings in Belarus.
– Putin’s nightmare scenario is a new riot in Belarus, because now Russia has no more to intervene if something happens. Had this happened to Putin, Russia would have taken action in the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan and between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. They don’t.
If Putin gets what he wants, Dallhog is also skeptical about whether Lukashenko’s forces will be able to achieve anything on the battlefield.
– I’m not sure if they would make any difference. They have divisions with absolutely no combat experience, which were used only to suppress internal resistance. The retired general says they’ve never been out in severe weather, and it’s much easier to shoot civilians in the back than to shoot someone who’s shooting at you.
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