Lukashenko mobilising troops could spell disaster for Putin

Lukashenko claims Ukraine plotting to overthrow Belarus

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Since the war in Ukraine began, Belarus has not been directly involved in the fighting. However, its authoritarian leader, Alexander Lukashenko, has now threatened to take up arms, after previous indirect involvement: part of the initial invasion of Ukraine began on Belarusian territory, giving Vladimir Putin’s army the shortest route to Kyiv, and the country has been the launchpad for missile strikes into Ukraine. But if Lukashenko’s troops did fight in Ukraine, this could pose a threat to his premiership — and to Putin, too. 

Earlier this month, Lukashenko told the state-run news agency, Belta, that Belarus may join forces with Russia in combat, stating plans must be “advanced” in order to counter “all kinds of scoundrels who are trying to drag Belarus into the fight”.

The 68-year-old President, who has been in power since 1994, announced on October 10 that Russia and Belarus were bringing forces together following an explosion on the Kerch Bridge or Crimean Bridge that links Russia and Crimea, which was illegally annexed by Putin in 2018.  

He said: “I’ve said already that today Ukraine is not just discussing but planning strikes on the territory of Belarus. We have agreed to deploy a regional grouping of the Russian Federation and the Republic of Belarus… There should be no war on the territory of Belarus.”

However, his opposition during the presidential election two years ago, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, told POLITICO that she believes both Lukashenko and Putin doubt that the Belarusian army would fulfil the order to fight in Ukraine. 

Tsikhanouskaya, speaking on Friday, October 13, in Brussels, Belgium, said: “I’m sure that [Lukashenko] would give the order to the Belarusian army to participate in this invasion — if he was sure they would fight. 

“Just imagine the situation if he made this order, the Belarusian army went across the border, and they defect, they change sides, they hide because they actually don’t want to fight the Ukrainians. Just imagine his reputation in front of Putin, in front of the Kremlin — it would be an epic fail.”

According to an opinion poll by Chatham House — conducted in May — found only three percent of Belarusians approve of the deployment of Belarusian troops in Ukraine. Not only this, but the majority of Belarusians neither support the concentration of Russian troops currently in their country nor support helping Russia in any way. 

Lukashenko was not in a politically strong position before the war began. In 2020, he relied heavily on Russian financial and military support to retain power in the aftermath of the presidential election which is largely considered to have been rigged after a landslide victory. 

After the leader of almost 30 years supposedly won more than 80 percent of the vote, mass protests were seen in Minsk and around 20 other cities. Russia was instrumental in quelling the disorder and thus, has had a hold over Lukashenko ever since. 

Although Lukashenko said his relationship with Putin had not always been “cloudless” in an interview with NBC on October 14, he described them as “utmost close friends and reliable partners”. 

He said: “As I once said no one else has the same level of relations as those that exist between the presidents of Belarus and Russia. This is the first. Secondly, our relationship has intensified and strengthened lately. We have absolute trust in each other. That’s why we have practically no problems.” 

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If Belarus was forced into taking up arms with Russia coupled with the dissent in the country, and disorder loomed, it may not be crushed as easily due to both armies being otherwise occupied. 

Further, more harsh sanctions would be applied by the West which would further add to the economic turmoil currently facing Belarusians today. 

Should Lukashenko be ousted, Putin would lose one of his closest allies.

His pool of those on which he can rely already appears to be dwindling; the Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, told the Public Broadcasting Service in September that Russia cannot keep any Ukrainian territory it has captured. 

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