Ukraine: Lukashenko’s priority is to ‘preserve power’ says Lavaleuski
Alexander Lukashenko has asked Vladimir Putin to defend Belarus if it is attacked, it was reported earlier this week. The Belarusian leader told Russia’s defence minister Sergei Shoigu that he had discussed with the Russian President how Russia would “protect Belarus as its own territory” in the case of aggression, adding that the nation “needs such guarantees”. Minsk has supported Russia throughout the war: it served as a launch base for the “special military operation” last February and currently hosts Russian forces. Yet, as Lukashenko grows increasingly reliant on Putin, a loss in Ukraine could spell out his downfall — and even with a victorious Russia, some experts have predicted that Lukashenko’s position remains up for grabs, the “dictator” never having been “popular” in the Kremlin.
In recent weeks, Lukashenko has upped the ante, pitting Minsk against the West. During a televised address in March, he announced that Belarus could hold nuclear weapons for Russia — something that the Kremlin has since confirmed it will do.
According to Hajun, an independent monitoring group, Russia launched more than 600 missiles at Ukraine from Belarus in the first year of the war alone.
It means that Putin and Lukashenko are the closest they have been for years, the pair engaged in mutual benefits political discourse.
Experts writing for Foreign Policy explained that a win for Ukraine would also be a win for those who oppose the Belarusian regime — people who have lived under the “last dictator of Europe” for the past three decades.
Vlad Kobets, executive director of the International Strategic Action Network for Security, wrote along with Eric S Edelman and David J. Kramer, who both served under the George W. Bush administration, arguing that Ukraine and Belarus are fighting the same war.
They wrote: “A Russian defeat in Ukraine would weaken Putin significantly enough that he can no longer bail out his fellow dictator — and could embolden Belarusians to try their hand at removing Lukashenko once more.”
However, while the two leaders appear close, their relationship through history has been strained, in large part due to Lukashenko’s erratic behaviour and willingness to openly act as a dictator.
Although he won the 1994 presidential election fair and square, he is no longer a “legitimate” leader as subsequent elections have been allegedly rigged with the 2020 results not recognised by the US nor the EU.
Peaceful protestors took to the streets in response to the election three years ago creating a difficult situation for Putin.
The protests did not appear to show anti-Kremlin sentiments, unlike in Ukraine in 2014 when the pro-Moscow Government was toppled, and Putin did not want to spark such fury by becoming involved in the uprising.
Russian is widely spoken throughout Belarus and attitudes towards Russia are generally more positive. Both Minsk and Moscow celebrate the heroism of Soviet troops during World War 2.
Yet, Gustav Gressel, Senior Policy Fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relation, noted that Lukashenko was by no means admired in the Kremlin.
He told AFP in 2020: “They came to the conclusion that Lukashenko is probably a dead end but for them, it’s embarrassing if it’s done from the streets, so they need to cast this in a process to have control over it.”
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He added: “I think they are looking for ways to manage this… (Lukashenko) is someone who can be replaced without the Kremlin losing too much face.”
Putin eventually decided to offer a loan and has supported Lukashenko since, and it is “likely” that without the Russian President’s backing, Lukashenko would not be in power.
Mr Edelman, Mr Kobets, and Mr Kramer added: “As long as Putin remains in power, he will remain a threat at home and abroad. The same is true of Lukashenko.
“While victory in Ukraine may not lead to Putin’s downfall, it may open the door for finally solving the Lukashenko problem. It is long past time for Europe’s last dictator to go.”
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