The Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko has warned that he is ready to fight alongside the Russians if his country is attacked, but remarkably claims that he can help negotiate peace. The authoritarian leader is a firm Kremlin ally and supporter of what Vladimir Putin refers to as their “special military operation” but what almost all of the rest of the world knows is a war following his illegal invasion of Ukraine.
Military co-operation between Russia and Belarus has been on the increase, but so far it has stopped short of involving his troops crossing the border. The controversial head of state facilitated part of Russia’s incursion in February last year, by allowing them to use his territory as a launchpad, but has suggested he could now be the man to bring Mr Putin and US president Joe Biden together and reach an agreement.
That proposal however has no substance what so ever and would be considered a non-starter by all sides, particularly as the US, the UK, and the EU do not recognise Mr Lukashenko as the legitimate president of Belarus.
Running scared of Putin
In a press conference hastily arranged to speak with western media, Mr Lukashenko made some veiled threats, with some comments that seemed more of a public relations attempt at pacifying Mr Putin.
When asked if he would allow his country to be used as a staging ground for another Russian invasion, he replied “Yes, I am ready to provide territory again.” Before continuing to say: “I am also ready to wage war, alongside the Russians”, but then backtracked to qualify his remark by adding: “But only if someone, even a single soldier, enters our territory from Ukraine with weapons to kill my people. If they commit aggression against Belarus, the response will be the most severe, and the war will take on a completely different nature.”
The fact that the Ukrainians have no wish to engage in any such move is probably seen as a reasonable get out clause for the Belarusian leader. Although the chance of something being stage-managed should not be ruled out.
President lays blame for conflict on the west
Mr Lukashenko, ignoring all the facts placed before him, chose instead to blame the West for the “war” in Ukraine. He accused Western governments of fuelling the conflict and felt compelled to warn: “If you continue this escalation, you will get nuclear weapons and Russia has more than anyone.”
Then possibly showing his true concern, he said: “You should stop this; if a nuclear war starts, Belarus will cease to exist.”
“Invitation” a non-starter
With President Biden due to visit Poland, Mr Lukashenko invited the US leader to come to Minsk and said he would persuade Putin to come too and they could sit down and reach an agreement. He didn’t appear to be joking, but he also knew that would never happen.
Then after making positive noises he immediately went on the attack against the West again when he criticized Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, saying he should pursue “an independent policy” and distance himself from the US and its allies.
First invasion from Belarus easily repelled
It is almost exactly one year ago, that Russian forces in Belarus invaded Ukraine from the north in what proved to be a disastrous and ultimately humiliating attempt to capture the capital, Kyiv. The troops who expected to take control easily, were soundly defeated and those that survived fled back over the Belarusian border having more than met their match.
Heavy dependency on Russia
Belarus is heavily dependent on Russia for economic aid and security assistance. It is ruled with an iron fist by president Lukashenko, who is often referred to as Europe’s last dictator, especially by the US who back in 2005 listed his country as Europe’s only remaining “outpost of tyranny”.
Any opposition by its people is subjected to harsh penalties as he unwaveringly opposes any privatisation of state enterprises, meaning that the country is heavily dependent on the Russians for its energy supplies.
Violence to suppress protestors
In 2020 many Belarusians took to the streets with mass protests against what was seen as rigged voting and demanded the Lukashenko step down, accusing him of stealing the country’s presidential election and claiming a fraudulent victory.
What followed was an extended period of police brutality. Not just against the men of the country, but also the women and many pensioners who had protested peacefully, but were indiscriminately arrested and ferociously beaten in a violent crackdown, which also included stun grenades being fired into innocent crowds.
Locals likened it to what it must have been like in World War Two, with people having to be hidden from heavy-handed security forces moving from house to house, just as the Jews had hidden from the Nazis all those years ago. There have been incidents that have resulted in activists being killed and other reports of people going “missing”. Although there is still discontent the the protesters have been viciously suppressed.
Sanctions still not affecting oppressive rule
Mr Lukashenko’s government has faced a wave of Western sanctions for the reason of political oppression, but it seems to have no effect on how the country is run. There is no freedom of speech, the press are gagged, and TV is the main news source and the National channels are all state-controlled. The internet is used by the opposition to try and make its voice heard, but the government has sought to increase its online controls.
The president appears under pressure, and is certainly a man who does not give the impression of someone to be trusted, in terms of both his words or his actions.