Belarus President Alyaksandr Lukashenka with Vladimir Putin and Putin's defense minister Sergey Shoygu observing military exercises (Image: kremlin.ru)
Even though Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s government would likely be opposed, Vladimir Putin has sufficient leverage over Belarus to use it as a place des armes in the event of a new Russian invasion of Ukraine or of war with NATO, according to some experts at a conference in Kyiv last week.
But others at the meeting suggested that Moscow might find that ever harder to do, especially if actions by incoming US President Donald Trump push down the price of oil and thus leave Russia less able to subsidize Belarus.
In an article for Ukraine’s Apostrophe portal, Vadym Dovnar says that there has been relatively little media coverage of a conference last week in Kyiv on “25 Years of Ukrainian-Belarusian Dialogue” Prospects for Bilateral Relations at a Time of Global Challenges” despite the important arguments that were made there.
Most participants in the meeting argued, he continues, that “official Minsk will not be in a position to oppose for long demands from Moscow” to be used against Ukraine or NATO, especially since “Belarusian territory and airspace is already being used [by the Russians] against Ukraine.”
“official Minsk will not be in a position to oppose for long demands from Moscow” to be used against Ukraine or NATO, especially since “Belarusian territory and airspace is already being used [by the Russians] against Ukraine.”
Hanna Hopko, head of the Verkhovna Rada’s foreign relations committee, said that Ukrainian experts have been discussing the ways in which Moscow might use Belarusian territory against Ukraine and the likely inability of the Belarusian government to prevent that from happening, despite Minsk’s opposition to any such moves.
Many Belarusian analysts agreed, arguing that “one must not completely exclude the possibility of an invasion of Ukraine from Belarus.” As one of their number put it: “Does the Kremlin view Belarus as a neutral country? I very much doubt it,” given Moscow’s efforts to create joint military forces there.
“Yes, in recent years, Minsk has consistently pursued an effort not to take the side of Russia in its aggressive policy on the post-Soviet space and in the Middle East, has actively developed relations with the opponents of Russia, and even spoken out against any change in the borders of the countries of the former USSR,” the journalist said.
And Minsk has also rewritten its security doctrine, limited Russia’s military presence, and increased the autonomy of the Belarusian armed services,” but he and other experts said that despite that, Belarusian neutrality must be within the limits Moscow will tolerate. And they spoke openly about what they called “the ‘Finlandization’ of Belarus.”
But one comment at the meeting is both encouraging and frightening, encouraging in that it suggests Moscow’s leverage on Minsk may be declining and frightening in that, if that is the case, Putin may decide to use Belarus against Ukraine sooner rather than later, especially during the unsettled period between the US elections and the inauguration of a new president.
Putin may decide to use Belarus against Ukraine sooner rather than later, especially during the unsettled period between the US elections and the inauguration of a new president.
Belarusian analyst Viktor Martynovich said that “cheap oil has made Moscow not all that interesting for Minsk as a partner. Minsk is ready to be friends only with the rich and the generous. Present-day Moscow is not rich and not generous, and so Ukraine ought not to be afraid of Belarus” all other things being equal.
At the same time, he added, “Donald Trump’s promises to lift the limits on oil production mean that oil prices will continue to fall, and therefore Belarus should remain at least conditionally neutral,” a conclusion that the Kremlin is probably just as aware of as are people in Minsk and Kyiv.
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