Why It Looks More Like Lukashenko Helping Putin Than Belarus Helping Russia
Most countries have strongly condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and many have imposed sanctions on Russia. Even countries like India and China, which haven't really condemned Russia and more importantly its President Vladimir Putin, have started to harden their stance. One country that has been steadily standing behind Russia and Putin is Belarus, a former Soviet Union state.
Why are Belarus and its president Alexander Lukashenko backing Putin’s indefensible act of invading Ukraine and helping the country in its battle against the defiant Ukrainian forces?
How is Belarus helping Russia?
First, let’s understand how Belarus is helping Russia. The country hosted thousands of Russian troops for “military exercises” just days before the invasion. The troops ended up attacking Ukraine and seized the Chernobyl nuclear plant.
Russian troops also have logistical support from Belarus in the air defense systems and fueling stations. U.S. intelligence agencies think that Belarus might also send its troops to fight alongside the Russian army. Initially, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky rejected the offer to hold talks with Russia in Belarus since it isn't a neutral country but an aggressor as far as Ukraine is concerned.
Why is Belarus helping Russia?
For Putin, Belarus is pretty much a role model state on how he wants the formal Soviet constituents to “behave.” Belarus has a security pact with Russia and doesn't intend to join either NATO or the European Union. Belarus has a large Russian-speaking population that's sympathetic towards Russia and a leadership that's friendly towards Russia and denounces the West.
Meanwhile, more than Belarus helping out Russia, it looks more like a case of Lukashenko helping Putin. Both of the presidents have been governing their respective countries for more than two decades now. Like in Russia, many people think that the Belarus elections are also rigged. Putin and Lukashenko have stifled opposing voices in their countries.
Lukashenko owes his current presidency to Putin since the Russian president helped him quash demonstrations against him in 2020 after an alleged rigged election. Russia has been financially bailing out Belarus as it battled western sanctions. Lukashenko also said that he thinks that the poisoning of Russian opposition leader and Putin's critic Alexei Navalny was fake.
Overall, it’s a case of quid pro quo between Lukashenko and Putin. While Putin helped Lukashenko tighten his grip on Belarus, Lukashenko is now paying him back.
Putin and Lukashenko have a lot in common.
There's a lot in common between Putin and Lukashenko. They have both amended their country’s constitution to lengthen their rule. Lukashenko abolished the limit on the presidential terms 16 years ago, while Putin initially sought a more colorful way of remaining in power.
Putin left the presidency after two terms in 2008 and became the prime minister under long-time ally Dmitry Medvedev. For all practical purposes, Putin was calling the shots in that government. Medvedev also extended the presidential term limit from four years to six years.
In 2020, the Russian parliament made constitutional amendments that allowed Putin to seek re-election in 2024 and then again in 2030. To give legitimacy to the amendment, Putin went for a referendum, and like with his election as the president, Russian voters voted in favor of the changes.