Belarus-Russia: History of alliance explained as Putin ‘will do anything’ to keep power

Ukraine: Belarus urged to refrain from aiding Russia by NATO

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Belarus served as a launchpad for Putin last month as Russia’s tanks rolled into Ukraine and the invasion of its former Soviet neighbour began. The country, which borders Ukraine to the north, provided a staging post for some 30,000 Russian troops prior to the invasion. Four weeks into the conflict, Minsk remains a key ally for Moscow as Putin is shut out by all other European leaders and grows increasingly isolated in Ukraine. The Ukrainian President’s office warned on Sunday that an attack on Ukraine’s northwestern Volyn region launched from Belarus remains a high risk.

Belarus’s significance in the war was outlined in stark terms by NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg on Thursday.

He warned Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko against his nation being an “accomplice” to Moscow as he appeared before a summit of the security bloc’s leaders in Brussels.

But Belarus and Russia’s strategic alliance is no new feature of European geopolitics. The two nations’ shared history stretches back decades.

Belarus was one of the three eastern Slavic republics in the Soviet Union, the other two being Russia and Ukraine.

The landlocked eastern European nation declared its independence in 1991 as the Soviet Union disintegrated.

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It remains Russia’s oldest post-Soviet ally, with Minsk having signed the Union State Treaty with Moscow in 1999.

The agreement, which paved the way for an eventual confederacy between the two countries, signifies how Belarus has helped support Putin during his two decades in the Kremlin, according to Monika Bickauskaite, a Central and Eastern Europe expert.

In a 2019 article for New Eastern Europe, she wrote: “He seems to be willing to do anything to maintain the grasp of his power.”

Ms Bickauskaite discussed the two countries’ shared history and the possibility of them further solidifying their existing ties by creating a union state.

She wrote: “Such a union would entail a common legal system, foreign policy, joint defence and energy regulations.

“Additionally, it would mean a prolonged Russian border for NATO countries Lithuania and Latvia, and a new extended Russian border for Poland.

“This could simultaneously result in more Russian military facilities or troops in Belarus.

“In fact, the ambassador of Lithuania to Poland, Eduardas Barisovas believes that the formalisation of the union state would indeed lead to further military integration.

“Simply put, a buffer between Russia and the EU would no longer exist. More importantly, Belarus would lose the last traces of its sovereignty.”

Ms Bickauskaite also echoed the warnings of western leaders who have claimed that Putin aims to simply subsume Belarus into Russia.

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The expert said the Kremlin has tried to assimilate Belarusians into Russian culture for years through a far-reaching propaganda campaign.

She wrote: “Belarus has been forced to integrate into Russia in a hybrid manner for the past two decades.

“Throughout the years, Russian propaganda masterminds have been aiming to indoctrinate Belarusians with the idea that Belarusian culture, language and even history are fake.

“Russian propaganda narratives claim that Belarusians as a nation do not exist—they are simply a branch of Great Russian people.”

During the first week of Russia’s invasion, an unnamed US defence official told The Washington Post it was “very clear Minsk is now an extension of the Kremlin”.

The EU’s foreign affairs and security policy chief Josep Borrell also warned that Lukashenko was allowing his nation to become a “Russian satellite state”.

In the latest warning from the West, Mr Stoltenberg told the NATO press conference on Thursday: “[NATO] has also agreed that Belarus must stop acting as an accomplice to Putin’s invasion.”

He added: “NATO enlargement has been a historic success, spreading democracy, freedom, and prosperity across Europe.”

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