Defying Putin, Belarus’ Lukashenko does Not want to Attack Ukraine

Image credits: President Aleksandr. Lukashenko of Belarus and President Vladimir Putin in Sochi, Russia (2023). Picture courtesy Russian State Media.

Russia and Belarus might be allies, but that does not mean their leaders, Vladimir Putin and Alexander Lukashenko, like each other. The Belarusian President, despite being economically dependent on the Russian Federation, seems to attempt to sabotage the Kremlin’s war efforts in Ukraine. Can Moscow do anything to “discipline” the 70-year-old strongman?

By Nikola Mikovic
Unlike other Russia’s allies in the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) – Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan – Belarus is the only country that openly supported the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 20222. Minsk, however, did not directly participate in Putin’s adventure, although it allowed Russia to use its territory to attack the Eastern European nation.

But ever since the Kremlin decided to withdraw Russian troops from the Kyiv region in the spring of 2022, Moscow has been rarely launching missile attacks on Ukraine from Belarus. Meanwhile, the Ukrainian military reportedly built 621 miles (1000 kilometers) of fortifications and three defense rings around the capital. Unlike two years ago, Russia would now have a hard time reaching the outskirts of Kyiv.

Although the Russian Ministry of Defense constantly uses suicidal frontal assault military tactics aiming to seize strategically insignificant towns and villages, at this point, the Kremlin is unlikely to send Russian troops to storm Ukrainian well-fortified positions around Kyiv. However, reports suggest that Moscow might have considered that an option.

Following the four-hour meeting Putin and Lukashenko held in Moscow on April 11, the Belarusian President said that his country would not enter the war against Ukraine because “it wouldn’t do any good.” He explained that the Ukrainian-Belarusian border is “completely mined and concreted” and that around 120,000 Ukrainian troops are stationed there.

Lukashenko, unlike Putin, does not seem particularly willing to send Belarusian troops to die in vain. He is also quite aware that the Ukrainian military can seriously retaliate and strike Belarusian critical infrastructure if Minsk allows Russia to use Belarusian territory for a potential attack on Kyiv. Such an outcome would have severe consequences for both Russia and Belarus.

Lukashenko likely fears that Ukraine can destroy the Belarusian Mozyr oil refinery. It is a strategically important facility that Moscow is actively using as the Ukrainian military conducted several drone strikes on the Russian oil industry. But Putin seems to have pressured his Belarusian counterpart to, one way or another, get involved in the Ukraine war.

The two leaders discussed "coordinating actions in response to existing challenges and threats." Lukashenko also attended the Russian Security Council meeting. However, his rhetoric suggests that he and Putin have not been able to find some common ground.

“There are documents [previously agreed on during the peace talks in Belarus and Turkey] initiated by the Russian and Ukrainian sides. Let's return to these documents and proceed from them”, the Belarusian leader stressed, aiming to portray himself as a “peacemaker.”

The Kremlin's problem is that the documents represent a Russian de facto capitulation. Russia reportedly wanted to reach a "long-term lease" agreement for Crimea in Istanbul. It was even ready to return the Donbas to Ukraine in exchange for Kyiv’s neutral geopolitical status. Moscow now insists on a “new reality” on the ground, which means that Ukraine would have to recognize Russia’s annexation of four Ukrainian regions.

Lukashenko, however, suggests that the so-called Istanbul agreement should represent a starting point for future negotiations between Russia and Ukraine. He seems to undermine Russian war efforts indirectly. But it’s not the first time he “turned his back” on the Kremlin.

Following the Crocus City Hall terror attack on March 22, Lukashenko cast doubt on Russia’s claims that Ukraine was involved in the massacre. According to the official Russian version of the tragic event, the attackers attempted to escape to Ukraine. However, Lukashenko said they initially intended to enter Belarus rather than Ukraine.

Despite that, the Kremlin did not act against the Belarusian leader. Isolated by the West and abandoned by most of its allies, Moscow cannot afford to lose Lukashenko’s relative loyalty. That is why Russia has to tolerate the Belarusian strongman’s approach to the war in Ukraine.

In diplomacy, it is essential to establish and maintain good personal relationships. It is no secret that Putin and Lukashenko do not get along. But under the current circumstances, when Moscow is very far from achieving its goals in Ukraine, the Russian leader can unlikely force Lukashenko to allow once again the Kremlin to use Belarusian territory for a potential attack on Kyiv.

Finally, at this point, Russia does not even have enough troops for such a military operation. However, suppose it eventually decides to attempt to seize the Ukrainian capital. In that case, it will almost certainly have to take a longer route - from Russia’s Bryansk region through Ukraine’s Chernihiv oblast - which will result in more casualties on the Russian side. But we are still very far from such a development.

 

Nikola Mikovic

In politics, nothing happens by accident. If it happens, you can bet it was planned that way." (Franklin D. Roosevelt)
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2 comments on “Defying Putin, Belarus’ Lukashenko does Not want to Attack Ukraine”

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