Putin and Lukashenka: the best of enemies?
Russian President Vladimir Putin has met with Belarusian ruler Alexander Lukashenka in Minsk. At the same time, Russian and Belarusian forces took part in joint military manoeuvres. While the Russian news agency Tass described the meeting as fruitful, commentators point to divergences between the allied despots.
A reckless strategy
Putin is not exactly treating his ally like a true partner, columnist Pierre Haski notes on France Inter:
“According to an informal survey, three-quarters of Belarusians are against their country entering the war. And Lukashenka can reckon with acts of sabotage being committed, as they were at the beginning of the invasion. But Putin is thinking above all of his own strategy. ... According to Ukrainian generals, he wants to launch a new offensive in the coming weeks. Among the options he has not yet resorted to is extending the war to another country: Belarus. That would be bad news for Lukashenka, whom Putin has described as his 'closest ally'.”
The pressure on the ruler in Minsk is growing, observes La Stampa:
“Officially there was no talk of the war in Minsk, but the intense exchange of visits by the two countries' defence ministers in recent weeks leaves the Kyiv leadership in little doubt: Putin flew to Belarus to persuade Lukashenka to go to war. The commander of the Ukrainian troops, Valery Zaluzhny, is convinced that the Kremlin is planning a new attack on Kyiv. ... But this time the Russians want Lukashenka to put not only his territory but also his own soldiers, at least 30,000, at their disposal. ... A request that Lukashenka, however, has been refusing since February.”
Not a rock-hard alliance
Lukashenka wants to keep a door open to the West, wPolityce believes:
“Despite his tough official rhetoric, the Belarusian dictator is dissatisfied with the direction the situation is taking, because it looks as if Russia could either win or lose the war. Either way, however, Belarus and Lukashenka himself would find themselves in a losing position. This has led him to recently take several steps that have been interpreted as a signal to the West that he is ready for talks, that negotiations may even have begun behind the scenes, and that his alliance with Russia is by no means on rock-hard foundations.”
Belarus will become Russia's armoury
In a Facebook post, economist Vladislav Inosemtsev predicts that Belarus will become part of Putin's war economy:
“The Belarusian arms industry (and those in other countries) can be switched to military production faster and more efficiently than the Russian one. ... There are numerous reports that Belarus wil start producing Iranian drones for the Russian army, that Belarusian companies could become involved in the Russian missile programme and that Belarusian producers will increasingly replace the not very successful Russian arms industry. All of this is likely to become the main precondition for the continuation of Moscow's financial assistance, without which the Belarusian economy cannot survive.”
Lukashenka dodging and turning again
Gazeta Wyborcza comments:
“After ten months of war in Ukraine, Alexander Lukashenka is still not ready to pay his debt of gratitude to Putin, who saved him from the Belarusian popular uprising in 2020. He's still backing and forthing, as he's done over more than a quarter of a century in power. One moment he's accusing the West of planning to invade his country, the next he's threatening his neighbours and supporting Moscow, and then he's assuring the world that his intentions are entirely peaceful. All in all, however, he's trying to avoid having Belarus dragged into war, something which the vast majority of citizens do not want either.”