A couple of days ago, an expert discussion under the name “Belarus — the western outpost of Russian aggression” took place in Kyiv. As the name of the event suggests, the participants discussed how Moscow would force the Belarusian regime to take part in the aggression against Ukraine. This topic is popular in Kyiv and feeds a lot of “talking heads” who speak from large and small screens about how Russia will soon annex Belarus. Or how Belarusian tanks will move south at the snap of fingers from the Kremlin, or that all Belarusian generals are agents of the FSB and the GRU. While it’s already the eighth year of the war in Donbass.
The well-known phrase that generals are preparing for the past war is relevant not only for generals. All sorts of opinion leaders also try to predict the future by extrapolating past events there. Meanwhile, the situation is changing very quickly.
During the last two conversations between Aliaksandr Lukashenka and Vladimir Putin, the situation in Ukraine was discussed. In particular, the unworthy behaviour of its leader, Vladimir Zelensky. Who does not listen to wise advice from Minsk and Moscow. Although he did not ask for these advice. In addition, Kyiv dared to want to join NATO.
What’s new in this? Ukraine’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations are enshrined at the constitutional level. Ukraine is at war with Russia. While Belarus is formally Moscow’s closest ally. So the old principle applies here: “Listen to the enemy’s advice and do the opposite”.
The news is that the Belarus is raising the Ukrainian topic to the delight of the Kremlin. Which is very alarming. And here’s why.
Russian-Ukrainian relations are not linked to the current Belarusian-Russian agenda. The issue of Minsk’s recognition of the Russian annexation of Crimea by Moscow has been removed from the agenda. Russia has repeatedly demonstrated that with regard to Ukraine it does not consider itself bound by the interests of its formal allies like Belarus, for which its southern neighbour is a second export market. While war is bad for trade.
The key issue of the current stage of Belarusian-Russian relations is the issue of constitutional reform in our country. More specifically, the political future of Lukashenka. Moscow will be satisfied with the format of Belarus without Lukashenka. The latter has his own view of the situation. To put it bluntly, the question of which draft constitution to approve is now being decided: the one that Lukashenka brought from Sochi in September 2020 and for which Russia has already paid USD 1 billion; or the Minsk edition, which is far from the Moscow wishes.
Taking into account the current foreign policy isolation of the Belarusian regime and the fact that the Kremlin is the only legitimizer of Lukashenka’s power, the Belarusian ruler cannot simply ignore last year’s Sochi agreements. Putin must be convinced of the need to revise those agreements, that if Lukashenko is evil for the Kremlin, he’s at least the smallest possible evil.
Meanwhile, soon it will be necessary to present to the public the draft of the new constitution. There is less and less time to persuade the Kremlin. Here there is a danger that the Minsk “tail” will try to wag the Kremlin “dog”. By provoking a regional security crisis in order to put V. Putin in front of the inevitable need to support Lukashenka.
We could observe something similar in August last year, when NATO and Poland were accused of preparing an invasion of Belarus with the aim of occupying part of the territory of our country. The Belarusian ruler himself urgently turned to his Kremlin counterpart for help. And he got it.
The recent “conspiracy” against Lukashenka was also clearly aimed at obtaining support from the Kremlin: after all, the conspirators first of all planned to invite NATO troops to Belarus.
The emergence of the Ukrainian topic on the horizon of Belarusian-Russian relations on the initiative of Minsk is a very alarming signal. Statements about arms flows from Ukraine to Belarus, militant camps and American intelligence centres on the territory of the neighbouring country have been heard in Minsk for several years at the highest political level. Although the facts confirming the danger emanating from Ukraine for Belarus are not presented.
There is a possibility that in order to get concessions from the Kremlin on the format of the constitutional reform in Belarus, the Belarusian regime will aggravate relations with Ukraine. Moreover, this will not be the format of the half-forgotten “breakthrough” of a SUV with weapons through the border from Ukraine to Belarus. Circumstances call for something more ambitious. Something so large that the Kremlin could not ignore it and had no choice but to support Lukashenka. The limiting factor is Moscow’s reaction to the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict: Yerevan is also an ally of Russia, but this did not help Armenia in any way.
It can be stated that the Ukrainian-Belarusian relations will be in a zone of increased danger until the new constitution of Belarus is submitted to a referendum.