The conclusion of the operation of the CSTO forces in Kazakhstan did not lead to a decrease in Alexander Lukashenko’s military-political activity. He not only spoke about the operation planned in an hour «together with Putin» in the largest Central Asian state, but also announced the holding of the Belarusian-Russian Allied Resolve exercises in February.
The rulers of authoritarian states often tend to flaunt military uniforms. Lukashenko is no exception, though he did not have a brilliant career as a military leader. Moreover, for 30 years of independence, the Belarusian military have never fought, haven essentially not taken any part in peacekeeping operations in the international arena (a raid on Kazakhstan, sorry, does not count), therefore they can hardly be considered ready to carry out any tasks set by the authorities. Even the reshufflings in the army and law enforcement agency leadership conducted after August 2020 did not turn the Armed Forces of Belarus into an impeccable military machine. The purchase of Russian weapons in the amount of $1 billion announced by Lukashenko in 2021 is more reminiscent of the legalization of a Russian military presence on the territory of Belarus.
Using aggressive rhetoric, Lukashenko could not go without mentioning Ukraine, accusing it of building up military potential on the Belarusian border. Lukashenko did not hesitate to repeat the Russian idea about «nationalists from the National Guard» who are «more terrible than NATO.» The active use of such expressions is telling. Meanwhile, the Polesie operation conducted by Ukrainian border guards and national guardsmen in the areas bordering Belarus began in November 2021 against the backdrop of the migration crisis on the border of Belarus with Poland. Another fact to consider is that many Ukrainian National Guard units are conveyed on MAZ trucks purchased in Belarus recently, back when Lukashenko was ready to come to Ukraine only by tractor and not by tank.
Acting as a promoter of the Belarusian-Russian exercises is an obvious confirmation of the forced rapprochement between Minsk and the Kremlin. With what kind of «allied resolve» it takes place, it seems, no longer depends on Lukashenko. The exercises will take place on February 10-20, but Russian troops are already being transported to Belarus, as if urging the West to think harder about Russian proposals for security guarantees while, of course, increasing psychological pressure on Kyiv.
The legend of the exercises suggests that the Russian and Belarusian military will work out a mirror image of aggression from Poland, Lithuania, and Ukraine. Who uses the myth of the besieged fortress in political practice? It is probably not necessary to indicate. And there is something else that is much more interesting: will Lukashenko be able to return to his office from the «Belarusian balcony» if Russia decides to play at aggravating the situation in Europe, treating the opinion of its ally as insignificant?
It should be noted that Deputy Secretary of the Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council Sergei Demedyuk told Reuters that the recent hacker attack on Ukrainian government websites could have been carried out by representatives of the UNC1151 group with Belarusian residence permits who had previously attacked other states neighboring Belarus. It should be recalled that the hacker groups are essentially modern Landsknechts operating under the guise of special services and that the Russians have been seen repeatedly using such tools.
The appointment of Russian Ambassador Boris Gryzlov to Minsk (the diplomatic representatives of Moscow in the capital of its main ally change at truly cosmic speed) suggests that Russian-Belarusian relations will finally cease to be a place for discussions, and Moscow will try to transfer the management of Belarus to manual mode. Gryzlov’s diligence and proximity to Putin leaves no doubt and little space for Lukashenko’s maneuvers. Gryzlov’s retention of the status of the head of the Russian delegation to the Trilateral Contact Group should not be misleading, as negotiations on the settlement of the Donbass conflict are essentially frozen.
What awaits Alexander Lukashenko in the future, except for the ceremonial presence at the Allied Resolve exercises? At a minimum, proposals to deploy Russian troops in Belarus on a permanent basis, possibly under the guise of Belarusian units.
Another element of the Belarusian-Russian friendship at the present stage is the dragging of Lukashenko into the Crimea on the anniversary of its «entering its native harbor.» Moscow is noticeably tired of the absence of official delegations to the peninsula occupied in 2014 and will attempt to use the formal sovereignty of Belarus for its own purposes.
Even Lukashenko’s considerable experience of political survival does not allow for predicting a successful outcome for his protracted political romance with the Kremlin. However, one thing is clear: potential provocations stemming from Belarus will eliminate the remnants of Lukashenko’s legitimacy in the eyes of the world community.
Yauhen MAGDA, Institute of World Politics (Kyiv).
The article was prepared by iSANS specially for Reform.by.
Материал доступен на русском языке: Лукашенко в союзном мундире