by
February 28 – March 6, 2022
Belarus-Russia relations

The heavy burden of special union duty

The situation got worse

The Kremlin is determined to bring the “special operation” in Ukraine to a definitive conclusion. Western sanctions are intensifying, and Lukashenka is showing an increasing tendency to follow and equivocate the Kremlin agenda.

The Union State of Belarus and Russia is rapidly becoming a humanitarian disaster zone. Freezing the assets of the Central Bank of the Russian Federation, disconnecting several banks from SWIFT, the mass withdrawal of foreign companies, the rapid collapse of RUB and BYN and the prospects for the prompt introduction of new sanctions are the first manifestations of the economic dimension of the war in Ukraine.

Sanctions are being imposed with unprecedented speed and scope. Putin’s “anti-sanctions” response (involving various restrictions on currency transactions) looks like an attempt to stop a tornado with a desk fan. In a matter of days, Russia and Belarus found themselves in an unprecedented new reality. There are no road maps or recipes for mitigating the effects of such measures. Certainly not the “Union programs” which, predictably, instantly vanished from sight.

Belarusian officialdom parrots aggressive Kremlin propaganda. Lukashenka wobbles in a narrow rut between full support and justification of the Russian military invasion of Ukraine and non-participation and potential peacekeeping. Moreover, as Western sanctions intensify, he tends to align with the Kremlin on the surface while equivocating tactically on the ground. However, his statements are so full of contradictions that one can extract practically any meaning one chooses.

On March 1st, at a meeting with members of the State Security Council and the leadership of the Council of Ministers, Lukashenka assured them that “the Belarusian army has not taken any part in hostilities and is not going to take part”. However, Belarusian air defence systems have been alerted to prevent Russian troops from being “stabbed in the back”. Two days later, he revealed that the West’s plans for Belarus are to “push us into the war in Ukraine, specifically so that we will expose the rest of our borders.”

On March 4th, after talking with Putin by phone and expressing full approval of his actions (according to the Kremlin), Lukashenka turned to the “hybrid war” being waged against Belarus. The Russian military intervention in Ukraine is a short term affair compared to the protracted sanctions offensive against Belarus (or, more precisely, against himself).

For the first time since the collapse of the USSR, Russia and Belarus found themselves subject to a full-fledged information blockade. Foreign media are curtailing their activities in Russia. Access to reliable sources requires circumventing regime and state restrictions using VPN services.

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