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Ukraine and Belarus

Strategic vacuum against the backdrop of common threats.



“Ukrainian key” to solving the problems of the Belarusian opposition.


At the moment, Lukashenka's aggressive policy and his support for Russia have led to the fact that Belarus is considered one of the most important threats to international security.


However, while for Ukraine and the international community the involvement of Belarus in the war is primarily an issue of additional risks for Ukraine and the EU border states, for the Belarusian opposition this issue has an additional important dimension: the opposition leaders  see the war as a means or a lever to get rid of Lukashenka and come to power in Belarus.


This specific approach can be explained by the fact that the "official" Belarusian opposition (S. Tsikhanouskaya, P. Latushko) has not developed any autonomous solutions for coming to power in Belarus. Instead, the work of the S. Tsikhanouskaya's office was constantly limited to attempts to attract an external political resource to put pressure on Lukashenka.


Over time, only the actor with whom hopes were pinned changed.


In 2020 and early 2021, Moscow was the main hope. Plans were discussed at meetings in Vienna with support of local political brokers, in Vilnius and Warsaw.


However, after the arrest in Moscow of the "conspirators" Feduta and Zenkovich in April 2021 and after the “ Ryanair incident”, the pointlessness of playing with Moscow became obvious, and the concept of international isolation and sanctions pressure began to play the main role in the planning of the opposition leaders.


Finally, after the war started, the new solution for the leaders of the Belarusian opposition became the victory of Ukraine over Russia. In their view, after the victory over Russia, it would cost Ukraine nothing to "settle accounts with Lukashenka" by ousting him and allowing the Belarusian opposition to come to power.


In practice, however, this approach has little chance of materialising in practice for a number of reasons listed below:


  1. The necessary prerequisite for its implementation is the crushing defeat of Russia, so that Putin would have no opportunity to help his ally Lukashenka. So far, such a defeat is out of the question.

  2. Even in the case of a crushing defeat of Russia, Ukraine is unlikely to launch military aggression against Belarus, as Ukraine is bound by the rules of international law, which it constantly appeals to in order to gain the support of the international community, and also would not risk triggering a nuclear strike because of a war with Belarus.

  3. In the case of military aggression from Ukraine, the broad masses and military elites will inevitably rally around the hitherto unpopular figure of Lukashenka. As a result, instead of a "surgically precise operation" Ukraine will get a new war on its borders, in which it will be Lukashenko's and Putin's turn to ask for help from the international community.

At the same time, although Ukraine will not be the liberator of Belarus, some form of strategic alliance between the Belarusian opposition and the Ukrainian authorities, albeit with less ambitious goals, would seem to be logical.


Meanwhile, nothing of the sort has been observed – often to the surprise of Western politicians and analysts. There are several reasons for this, which will be discussed below.

 

The origins of the problem: the Ukrainian side


From the point of view of the Ukrainian authorities, a clear conviction has long prevailed that the only way to effectively solve the security problem on the northern border is to reach an agreement with Lukashenka.


This logic is not random, but has a very clear rationale behind it.


Firstly, Lukashenko managed to maintain good personal relations with every Ukrainian president for many years, regardless of their political vector. Yushchenko, Yanukovych and Poroshenko – all of them had good contact and business ties with Lukashenka and his team, which had been built up over decades. For example, oligarch Nikolai Vorobey from Lukashenka's close entourage has long supplied bitumen for Zelensky's Big Construction project through his son and full namesake, a Ukrainian citizen. He also kept Medvedchuk's money in his Absolutbank bank, and has close ties with a number of influential businessmen in Ukraine and Russia.


Also, in the spring of 2022, the head of the GUR Budanov actively participated in the negotiations with the Belarusian side, which he recently openly stated (however, there are reasons to believe that this statement was made specifically to divert attention from the other channels of communication mentioned above).



As a result of these secret agreements, the Ukrainians pledged not to give open political support either to the Belarusian opposition or any independent Belarusian volunteer formations, which at that time sought to increase their presence in Ukraine. This explains, for example, the failure of the military project "Pogonya"[1] , despite all the persistence of its founders.


This agreement more or less worked until Lukashenka announced the deployment of tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine. The Ukrainians, unlike Western experts, linked it to the Russia’s preparation for their counteroffensive and perceived it as an extremely unfriendly step.


The second reason is that Ukrainians do not see the official opposition as a force that could really be a counterweight to Lukashenka.


[1] This project should not be confused with the public association "Pogonya", which emerged after the failure of the military project and works under the leadership of A. Opeikin and V. Gurkov.


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