why Belarus is still not fighting in Ukraine

Since the beginning of the war, Belarus appears to be preparing to fight on the Russian side in Ukraine. Still, the attack continues. How did it happen?

Aleksandr Lukashenko is not a straight man. The president of Belarus, often dismissed as ‘Europe’s last dictator’, has a habit of bending like a weather vane to the political wind. But even by his own twisted standards, Lukashenko has run an extremely tortuous course in recent months.

Officially, Lukashenko is an absolute supporter of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. At a meeting of the Belarusian Security Council in late February, Lukashenko claimed that Ukraine had been about to attack Belarus and thus Russia had saved Belarus. At the beginning of the war, he assured the world that Kiev would fall within three to four days. In line with Russian propaganda, he presents the war as a “special military operation” to “denazify” Ukraine.

But the Ukrainian resistance soon proved more unruly than expected. Since then, Lukashenko has blown hot and cold. Negotiations were held on the Belarusian-Ukrainian border in March – without success.

In May, Lukashenko complained that the conflict was dragging on and presented himself as a possible negotiator. But at the same time, he announced that Belarusian planes will soon be converted to carry Russian nuclear weapons, and the Belarusian army has already held military exercises on the Ukrainian border. On October 16, Lukashenko announced that Belarus would soon welcome 9,000 Russian soldiers.

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And yet the great attack does not come. Like a military man on moment supreme Invariably complaining of a sore back, Lukashenko always finds a reason not to attack.

Initially, Belarus’ participation was ‘not necessary’, he believed, because Russia would soon conquer Ukraine.

When Putin announced a “partial mobilization” in late September, Lukashenko replied that Belarus had no intention of following through. In early October, Lukashenko called for a mobilization – “to help in agriculture,” he quickly added.

On October 10, Lukashenko warned that the West is out to stage “military mutiny” and so terror in Belarus. That claim turned out to be primarily a rhetorical skill: With such an unprecedented threat, it would be irresponsible to send Belarusian soldiers to Ukraine.

Lukashenko watches the Belarusian troops during the Zapad exercises in 2017. © AFP Contributing AFP via Getty Images

Co-aggressor

Lukashenko’s political dribbling cannot hide the fact that Belarus is already cooperating fully in the Russian invasion. Since the initial phase of the war, Belarus has been used as a logistics center. At the beginning of the invasion, Kiev was attacked from Belarus. According to US intelligence, as many as 70 of the 480 missiles were launched from Belarus in the first week of the war. Wounded Russian soldiers are being treated in Belarusian hospitals. Russian recruits are believed to have been trained at Belarusian bases. “Belarus is a co-aggressor in Ukraine,” emphasizes former Belarusian diplomat Pavel Sloenkin, who is currently a political analyst at the European Council on Foreign Relations. “It is partly responsible for what the Russian army is doing in Ukraine.”

For a long time, Lukashenko was considered the perfect balance artist. Through Russia, he secured cheap oil and gas while trying to develop economic ties with Europe. But since the 2020 presidential election, that exercise has come to an end. Lukashenko suffered a crushing defeat in these elections. Only after Russia came to Belarus’ aid did Lukashenko succeed in suppressing the months-long large-scale protests. “Since 2020, Lukashenko has been completely dependent on Putin,” Sloenkin said. “His regime can only survive because of the Russian security services. Lukashenko is unable to deny Putin anything.’

No military advantage

The Belarusian army is relatively small, less well-trained and armed than the Russian army, and has no combat experience whatsoever. Military experts estimate that Belarus could deploy around 10,000 somewhat combat-ready soldiers. “It is not enough to play a decisive role in the war in Ukraine,” says Sloenkin. “It will not bring Russia one step closer to victory.”

Moreover, sending the army would also cause major domestic problems. Unlike Russia, where the war in Ukraine is supported by a significant part of the population, Belarusians have little appetite to come to the aid of their brotherly Russian people. According to a poll by the British think tank Chatham House, only three percent of the population supports the idea of ​​sending the Belarusian army to Ukraine to help Russia. “Lukashenko needs those troops in his own country,” Sloenkin emphasizes. He understands that he has no legitimacy as head of state and that unpopular measures can trigger a new wave of protests. If the army is sent to Ukraine to fight, Lukashenko has fewer people to suppress protests. Lukashenko hopes that Putin will never ask him to send the Belarusian army to Ukraine – because he will not be able to refuse.’

Moreover, in the meantime, Ukraine has been much better prepared for a possible invasion from Belarus. Most of the bridges in the border area have been blown up, landmines have been installed and defenses have been strengthened. Moreover, the Ukrainian army now has much better weapons with which it can also attack Belarus. “Putin is doing everything he can to avoid another front,” Sloenkin said. “If Belarus joins the attack, it will only cause further problems in the medium term. From a rational point of view, it makes no sense to send the Belarusian army to Ukraine. The question is, of course, whether Putin is rational’.

A billboard in Minsk sings to the Belarusian army: 'For you, my country, my honor, life and fame!'
A billboard in Minsk sings to the Belarusian army: ‘For you, my country, my honor, life and fame!’ © Contributor Getty Images

The Belarusian model

In a sense, Belarus is the concrete elaboration of what Putin envisioned for Ukraine: a state without a foreign policy with a leader aligned with Russia’s wishes. At first glance, it doesn’t seem like a very interesting deal for Russia: it has to support a poor country financially, while getting nothing in return financially or militarily. Also, it will get a leader who is nicely in line with the public but whom Putin hates a lot.

Nevertheless, Sloenkin is convinced that the ‘Belarusian model’ currently meets Putin’s wishes. “Putin doesn’t think in economic terms,” ​​Sloenkin said. “For Putin, this is how former Soviet states should behave. Political influence and military control are most important to him. Even if it costs billions, he will always choose power. He is not concerned with the welfare of his own people. Putin believes that Russians can always eat a little less if they are short.’

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