RUSSIA-BELARUS: AN UNHOLY MATRIMONY THREATENING THE CURRENT WORLD ORDER

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The Russia-Belarus relationship has been in the headlines along with the Russian expansionist policy in Ukraine. According to the West, the impending unification of the two nations, ruled by two authoritarian leaders, could threaten the current global order, especially in Europe.

The partnership between the two countries results from their close geographic locations and political, cultural and historical similarities. The President of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin have been holding a very complex relationship for over two decades.

Russian President Vladimir Putin with the President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko

As an ally, the Belarusian President stands firmly with all the policies Putin took during the Russia-Ukraine war. The cooperation between the two countries is augmenting these days due to various “unprecedented political and sanctions pressure from the West”, leading to Russia’s decades-old dream to merge with their neighbouring country.

Russia-Belarus Relation: A History

The post-Soviet period gave rise to a supranational organisation, the Union State of Russia and Belarus, simply referred to as the Union State. Both nations aimed to integrate their economic and defence policies through the Union. It became possible after several years of conciliation and agreements between Russian President Yeltsin and Belarusian President Lukashenko in the late 1990s.

Both nations signed important treaties like the Treaty of Friendship, Good- Neighbourliness and Cooperation (1995), Treaty on the Creation of the Union of Belarus and Russia (1997) and at last Treaty on the Creation of the Union State signed on December 8 1999. Both the countries ratified all these treaties readily. However, some legal provisions did not allow the nation’s integration in a faster way.

The opening ceremony of Zapad 2021, a joint military exercise between the armed forces of the Russian Federation and Belarus
Image courtesy-Reuters

The country’s integration in the military field has proven to be successful when compared to other domains. The Belarusian government’s main aim behind the integration with Russia is mainly its economic interest. For Russia, this Union is primarily for their political development.

Contemporary Developments

In the 2020 presidential election, Russia supported Alexander Lukashenko economically and politically amid various protests raised as part of voter fraud during Lukashenko’s re-election. This accelerated the unification talks between the two nations. On February 24, Russia invaded Ukraine. The West harshly criticised the invasion and also imposed sanctions on Russia. Furthermore, Belarus also faced Western sanctions due to its support of Russia’s actions. Moscow emphasised this action towards Ukraine as a special military operation to de-militarise and “denazify” the former Soviet State.

Belarusians protesting against the Russia-Belarus integration. The white-red-white flag (the official flag of the Belarusian People’s Republic before it became a part of the Soviet Union) is used in these protests against the government.

After the invasion of Ukraine by Russian President Vladimir Putin, the authorities of both nations have reiterated that the two neighbouring Slavic countries will boost their cooperation despite any sanctions imposed by the West.

“We are taking coordinated measures to protect our economy and the technological sovereignty of Russia and Belarus. We consider it necessary to strengthen integration in the Union state”.

Russian PM Mikhail Mishustin

On July 1 2022, Putin said they are accelerating their unification process in response to sanctions and political pressure from the “collective west”. They also guaranteed to reinforce the nations’ industrial, technological, agricultural and cultural ties. Amidst the Western sanctions and other forms of restrictions, both countries are trying to unify their relations for better economic and political functioning.

Read to know more about the sanctions imposed on Russia here!

Role of Belarus in the Russia-Ukraine War

Belarus began to make military franchises with Russia immediately after the 2020 re-election campaign. The two nations also held a military exercise known as Zapad-2021 in September 2021, and as a result, they launched a joint military training centre in Hrodna (also known as Grodno). Later in November 2021, the two states implemented a new military doctrine highlighting the need for bilateral cooperation. 

Russian and Belarusian soldiers in a joint military exercise conducted only days before the invasion of Ukraine
Image courtesy-Al Jazeera

After the immediate invasion of Ukraine, Lukashenko permitted Russia’s armed forces to organise military drills in their region. It paves the way to transport more military equipment and troops to the border of Ukraine. Russia also stated that in the coming months, they would provide missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads, specifically Iskander- M tactical missile systems. Ukrainian President Zelensky emphasised that Belarus did not intend to invade them, but Russia drew them into the war. He also warned them not to hear what Kremlin was saying. Thus, it is evident that Belarus is holding a significant position in the Russia-Ukraine War.

Future Implications

It might not be easy to answer whether the current Belarusian leadership under Alexander Lukashenko will continue to be in power or not. However, his present relationship with Putin guarantees he will cling to the power as President or behind the scenes. The present scenario reiterates that both nations will accelerate the integration process. Moreover, Russians will infringe on their sovereignty. These will also lead to a higher degree of military cooperation with the armed forces of the Russian Federation.

A map illustrating the borders shared by Russia, Belarus and Ukraine
Image courtesy-Al Jazeera

The Russian military will possibly use the Belarusian region to invade Ukraine directly. Recently Ukrainian intelligence claimed that direct missiles had hit different regions of Ukraine, namely Chernihiv, Sumy and Kyiv. The unification of the two nations will surely increase such actions in the coming days.

“The reconciliation of the two nations will increase the amount of privatisation to a more significant extent in the Belarusian region. Russia will remain a primary trading partner of Belarus, thus making the latter continue their dependency on Russian energy subsidies.”

Major economic sectors will also get integrated with the Russian Federation. Lukashenko will not give much attention to the sanctions imposed by the Western nations and the European Union. He will continue to move along with Kremlin’s path. It will gradually lead to a decrease in the export of petroleum products to the European Union. Practically European Union will terminate all forms of cooperation with the Belarusian regime. On the geopolitical stage, his anti-western policies might see him sidelined by the Russian Federation.

Conclusion

Overall, the world is witnessing an array of issues as part of Ukraine’s invasion. Pressure and sanction from the West might speed up the merging process to a greater extent. The current developments will terrify Ukrainians that they will have to bow down their heads before Russia. The unification process of these two nations did not require any form of force or coercion. Eventually, it will get merged with Belarus.

A destroyed Russian military vehicle in Ukraine’s capital Kyiv
Image courtesy-Reuters

Early Soviet Union leader Lenin had quoted a statement that ‘Imperialism is the highest stage of capitalism’ and in the present era of Russian administration, the Russian government itself is practicing imperialism and expanding their territory by procuring various neighbouring countries and regions like Crimea and Ukraine. It is crucial to analyse that whether this kind of involvement will create in a drastic change in the world order. Putin’s future actions are unpredictable, and with the support of Alexander Lukashenko, the changing world order will witness a more assertive Russia.

About the Author

Rekha J

Born and raised in a highly conservative family, Rekha always wanted to shatter all chains surrounding her from achieving her dreams. She is pursuing her Masters in International Relations and Politics from Mahatma Gandhi University, Kottayam. Her fundamental research interest is in feminism. She also volunteers for the Sex Education Kerala (SEK) foundation.

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