At the beginning of the war, Belarus became an accomplice in the aggression against Ukraine, giving its territory to Russian troops to move towards Kyiv and providing launching sites for at least seven missiles for seven hundred missiles. At the same time, Lukashenko said he was doing everything he could to stop the bloodshed.
But last week, he confirmed his involvement in the aggression: “As for our participation in the special military operation, we are there. We do not hide it. But we are not killing anyone, and we are not sending our troops anywhere. Yes, we treat people if necessary. Yes, we also feed them,” he said on 4 October.
Can we expect the situation to escalate further and the country to become even more involved in the war? The Belarusian-born German historian Alexander Fridman weighed in.
Has Belarus attacked Ukraine?
It would be more accurate to say that Lukashenko provided the territory for the attack. However, it is not just a question of moving from Belarusian territory. It is not just about bringing in and taking out of Belarus loot and war criminals.
Can Belarus take a more active role?
Anything is possible, from the active participation of the Belarusian army to the entry of Russian troops into Belarusian territory.
The US considers introducing nuclear weapons into Belarusian territory and the occupied territory of Ukraine to be a possible escalatory step for Russia. This is not the worst option for Lukashenko: it provides additional guarantees of regime survival. The downside is that Belarus would be taking the conflict to another level. If Lukashenko is engaged in any backroom negotiations, they will end.
There is a perception in the Baltic countries that Lukashenko has not been dealing with anything himself for a long time and that Belarus is an occupied territory. I think that this is an exaggeration, but it is certainly doubtful whether he is capable of standing up to Russia with his power structures.
It is also useless to call in Russian troops, which would then be difficult to withdraw. The Lithuanians understand this example particularly well: the Soviet occupation began with introducing a Red Army contingent into a still independent Lithuania. Similarly, Russian troops in Belarus could be activated at any time to overthrow the Lukashenko regime.
Russian conscripts are now leaving the country, including through Belarusian territory. The Belarusian authorities announced that they would catch them. And recently, Ukrainian intelligence reported that 20 000 mobilised Russians will be deployed in Belarus – is this possible?
By the way, in Lithuania, it all started with exactly 20 000 Red Army soldiers. That is quite possible, and that is what Lukashenko may end up doing. However, Moscow expects him to take other steps that could further destabilise the situation in the region. These include the mobilisation of the Belarusians, the deployment of Russian troops and nuclear weapons and the recognition of the occupied Ukrainian regions as part of Russia.
Last week, Lukashenko tried to implement two things.
The first was to show the Belarusians, Ukraine and the West that he does not want to be actively involved. He does not want what was there at the beginning of the invasion – and with these words, he is creating the basis for the subsequent excuses that he was forced to. He is also trying to reassure the people of Belarus that they will not be mobilised.
The second is his rhetoric about involvement in the special operation and supporting Russia. It is deliberately used to distract attention from the main issue of the day, which is whether he recognises the results of the ‘referendums’ in the occupied territories (Kherson, Zaporizhzhya, Luhansk and Donetsk regions).
There was another important point that no one was paying attention to. Lukashenko said that the Americans were to blame for everything but that they aimed to deal with Russia and the EU first and then with the more serious enemy – China. So he is flirting with China and is looking for a new patron from which to get support.
Is Lukashenko becoming a positive hero?
It is simply that, at the moment, his personal interest in staying out of the war coincides with the interests of the Belarusian people, who are concerned about staying out of the millstones of war. The war is cutting the branch on which his regime sits, and it is not in his interests to send the Belarusians to war.
Could this have anything to do with the 2020 protests?
Of course. 2020 has traumatised her. Lukashenko is well aware of how many people have taken to the streets, and he does not trust the population.
Society itself is in a state of fear. It is a silent swamp that can boil over if you are in the wrong place. They are divided between those who are sympathetic to Russia, to Ukraine and those who are indifferent, but most of them consider this war to be alien.
If summonses are served, or ‘cargo-200’ (dead soldiers – Ed.) is transported, it will destabilise the regime. However, Lukashenko may have no choice if Russia pressures him or if there is a blow from the Ukrainian side (Ukrainian or Russian staged).
If Lukashenko sends troops, the Belarusians will be part of a fratricidal war. Belarusians fighting in the Ukrainian armed forces may also be sent to fight the Belarusian army.
Is there an optimistic option?
Yes, one that was considered unrealistic in February and March and is not very likely today – a putsch in Moscow against the backdrop of Ukraine’s victory and Putin’s removal from power. This does not mean that freedom and democracy will come to Russia. However, Putin’s departure will remove the threat of nuclear war.