An ally on a knife-edge
The Belarusian leadership continues to manoeuvre with variable agility to align with “partial” participation in the armed conflict in Ukraine, providing Moscow with all forms of support short of contributing manpower.
Finding itself committed to one side, Minsk abandoned neutrality regarding the Russian invasion of Ukraine. As detailed in a recent MediaIQ report, Belarusian state media largely rebroadcast Russian propaganda unedited.
The question of neutrality only remains relevant in relation to the possibility of the Belarusian Armed Forces assuming an active role in Ukraine. In this regard, the Belarusian leadership continues to manoeuvre on a knife-edge.
According to the adviser to the Minister of Internal Affairs of Ukraine, Anton Gerashchenko, Lukashenka promised Putin that an armed operation would commence no later than March 21st, prompting the withdrawal of the Belarusian diplomatic mission from Kyiv. However, Minsk has since found reverse gear, causing Putin’s entourage to consider the option of removing Lukashenka from power via a military coup. This bears all the hallmarks of disinformation, but that is no guarantee against the inner circle of the Belarusian dictator taking it seriously.
At a meeting on March 24th, Lukashenka reacted nervously to Poland’s proposal to send a Western peacekeeping contingent to Ukraine. This could lead to a third world war; he warned and threatened that Belarusians would not remain “white and fluffy” – as if they were regarded as such at present.
One of the top news stories of the past week is the “energy argument”, which entails the Kremlin demanding that “unfriendly” countries pay for Russian gas in the roubles. If Europe accepts Putin’s ultimatum, it will have to reversesanctions against Russia to provide the necessary quantity of roubles. European countries will have to unfreeze cooperation with the Russian Central Bank and other large financial institutions of the Russian Federation. Some European consumers have refused to entertain this as such a step would violate existing contracts.
Experts believe Putin’s declaration may provoke a European embargo on Gazprom or split the ranks of Western states. The probability of reduced Russian gas supplies to Europe is high. Belarus, by no means the most solvent consumer, may soon become Gazprom’s number one customer (up from 3rd place in 2020).
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Situation in Belarus