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Ukraine: An Analysis of Existing Approaches to the Belarusian Question

An analysis of existing approaches to the Belarusian question and possible dynamics in relations with the Lukashenko regime.

Ukraine's relations with the Lukashenko regime prior to the Russian-Ukrainian war

In the history of modern Ukraine, there is a long period when the Ukrainian authorities had, or rather thought they had, quite good relations with the Lukashenko regime, and the situation has not changed after Maidan or Poroshenko's accession to power.

This happened because, firstly, Lukashenko was acting in his usual manner, successfully mimicking the role of a "double agent" who seems to be playing along with Ukraine. This mainly took the form of non-recognition of Crimea as Russian territory and loud statements that Lukashenko would never give up Crimea without a fight and that only a tractor, not a tank, would be allowed to enter Ukraine from the territory of Belarus. Although this game was played rather crudely, public opinion in Ukraine was predominantly on the side of Lukashenko, who had high popularity ratings. All this led, among other things, to Minsk becoming a negotiating platform on the status of Donbass, during which Lukashenko neatly played along with Russia, while playing the role of an almost "secret friend" of Ukraine, forced to remain neutral for diplomatic reasons.

Secondly, the Lukashenko regime had very mutually beneficial economic relations with Ukraine, supplying it with large amounts of fuel oil and bitumen in particular. As part of this cooperation, corrupt connections quickly developed between pro-Russian politicians and businessmen in Ukraine (Medvedchuk, Kozak), who kept money in Belarus, and Lukashenko's "wallets", such as Vorobey.

The negative outcome of Lukashenko's "double game" was a serious strategic miscalculation by the Ukrainian leadership, who sincerely believed that maintaining "benevolent neutrality" towards Ukraine was Lukashenko's strategic choice. This perception was the basis for a very restrained policy towards the Lukashenko regime, which took place even after the start of the mass protests in Belarus in August 2020, when Ukraine did not join the EU and US sanctions against the Lukashenko regime or joined them only partially.

The fallacy of this approach is that Lukashenko is in principle not a supporter of strategic planning, preferring to make any decision spontaneously and based solely on his desire to retain power. As long as it was profitable to play the role of friend and partner, Lukashenko imitated a benevolent neutrality towards Ukraine; as soon as it became profitable to provide a bridgehead for Russian troops, Lukashenko immediately adjusted himself to the situation.

Interestingly, the Ukrainian government did not seem to have considered this trait of Lukashenko's and did not see the danger until the last moment. Thus, the Secretary of the National Security and Defence Council Alexey Danilov recently said the following: "The only thing I can say: we didn't expect it to happen from Belarus itself. We didn't expect such a "stab in the back". We didn't expect that they would attack on all fronts. It was a surprise for us - I have to say that".

In view of the above, Lukashenko is in general an unpredictable and therefore untrustworthy politician. He will violate any agreement, as soon as he sees in it even the slightest sign of a threat to his power or life. He cannot be negotiated with, he can only be put into a stalemate.

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