April 8 – April 14, 2024
Security issues

Co-aggressor or Peacemaker?

The situation got worse
Co-aggressor or Peacemaker?

Amid preparations for a peace conference in Switzerland, Minsk and Moscow are trying to sow discord between Ukraine and Western countries on one hand, and the countries of the Global South on the other. They use rhetoric about Moscow’s readiness to return to negotiations based on the updated Istanbul Agreements of 2022, with Minsk acting as a mediator and hosting the negotiations. However, by setting preconditions that are impossible to meet, the Kremlin aims to create a pretext for a new large-scale attack on Ukraine, this time with the full participation of Belarus.

On April 11, Lukashenka unexpectedly went to Moscow to negotiate with his Russian counterpart, Putin, and participate in a meeting of the Russian Security Council.

The public part of the negotiations was dedicated to Minsk and Moscow’s peace initiatives to resolve the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. The dialogue took place against the backdrop of preparing for a high-level Swiss conference to settle the situation in Ukraine on June 16-17. Neither Russia nor Belarus was invited to this conference.

The Belarusian government believes that the event will only discuss ways to escalate the conflict. Therefore, Putin and Lukashenka’s task was to remind everyone of their own “peaceful” initiatives—thus driving a wedge among the potential participants of the event, especially among Western partners of Ukraine, who support resolving the conflict according to Vladimir Zelensky’s “peace formula,” and the countries of the Global South, which hold neutral positions towards Russia.

For this purpose, the Kremlin, through Lukashenka, reiterated its readiness to return to the negotiating table based on the Istanbul Agreements of April 2022. The Belarusian politician stated he fully supports the peace process, and if he can play any role in it, hinting at mediation and a negotiation platform in Minsk, he is ready to stand by and act in unison with Russia.

The “Istanbul Agreements” contained commitments for Ukraine to renounce joining NATO and maintain a neutral status. There was no prohibition against Ukraine joining the EU in the draft. It envisioned a reduction in the Ukrainian army, however, Moscow and Kyiv had different positions: Russia insisted on a force of 85,000 military personnel, 342 tanks, and 519 artillery units, while Ukraine reportedly agreed to 250,000 servicemen, 800 tanks, and 1,900 artillery units. The agreement also envisaged a ban on the deployment of foreign military and weapons in Ukraine, including missiles.

The annexed Crimea, according to the draft, remained Russian. The future of parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, which were under Russian control before February 24, 2022, was to be determined in separate negotiations. The status of other territories occupied by Russia was not mentioned in the draft agreements. Russia also put forward several other demands that Ukraine did not agree with, such as refusing to investigate war crimes, expanding the official use of the Russian language, and canceling all sanctions imposed against the Russian Federation. During those negotiations, the Kremlin insisted that Belarus should be included among the countries guaranteeing Ukraine’s security.

In anticipation of Putin and Lukashenka’s meeting, the Kremlin reformulated its negotiating position. Moscow is ready to base negotiations on the Istanbul Agreements, taking into account the changed “geopolitical realities”—the inclusion of all previously annexed Ukrainian territories into Russia (in addition to Crimea, this includes the Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhia regions).

If the public part of the negotiations was dedicated to the “peaceful” initiatives of Moscow and Minsk, the closed part, involving Lukashenka’s participation in the Russian Security Council meeting, was essentially a preparation for a new large-scale offensive operation against Ukraine—from the territory of Belarus and with the participation of a joint Belarusian-Russian military group.

It’s clear that a return to the Istanbul Agreements is impossible, even under conditions of a freeze on aid from the USA. In this context, Ukraine and the West’s refusal to negotiate based on the Istanbul Agreements is used by the Kremlin as a pretext for a new large-scale attack, in which Belarus’s participation becomes almost inevitable—regardless of Lukashenka’s claims that he is a co-aggressor but does not intend to fight.

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Once a week, in coordination with a group of prominent Belarusian analysts, we provide analytical commentaries on the most topical and relevant issues, including the behind-the-scenes processes occurring in Belarus. These commentaries are available in Belarusian, Russian, and English.

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