Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko is at a crossroads. He has ruled an intact autocracy for 30 years thanks to Moscow’s military support, But the Russian invasion of Ukraine has changed his prospects.
The war in Ukraine has turned into a nightmare for the Kremlin, which was counting on a quick Ukrainian surrender.
Realizing that he did not have the forces necessary to occupy and impose imperialism on 44 million Ukrainians, Russian Pres. Vladimir Putin It has appealed to other members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, such as Kazakhstan, for military and personnel assistance to no avail. Having exhausted most of its artillery and missile arsenal, Moscow had no choice but to seek military assistance from rogue nations such as Iran and North Korea.
Lukashenko has helped coordinate the invasion logistically, but has formally declined to intervene., Belarus’ dictator is now under pressure from the same people who keep him in power, after massive protests backed by Russia.
Lukashenko cooperated in Russia’s war plans. In preparation for the Russian invasion, he willingly opened up his country to set the stage for the Russian army to storm Kyiv. After months in which Lukashenko denied he knew of an invasion or that Russia was going to invade from Belarusian territory, he did so in February.
In addition to opening its border, Lukashenko said “special military operations” would reach Transnistria. This allowed the use of Belarusian bases as staging points for Russian bombing raids. While other CSTO members refused to send logistics or military aid, Lukashenko thought that giving up some sovereignty would be enough to appease the Kremlin. Overall it was not like this.,
In recent months, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has visited Minsk, and Putin has occasionally attended. It looks like Moscow is now persuading Lukashenko to formally intervene in Ukraine, whether he likes it or not.
Russia’s personnel and logistical problems left Moscow with a sense of urgency regarding a future Ukrainian counteroffensive. Defensive lines have been established in Crimea and the Donbas region.
Although significant casualties have reduced the availability of a professional Russian military, Putin continues to pursue territorial expansion, including another rumored push into Kyiv. To carry out this operation, Putin would have to entice or coerce Lukashenko. This puts the autocrat in a difficult position.
The Belarusian military is smaller and may not come close to the Russians’ capabilities to deploy, Lukashenko also needs the army for internal operations. As an unpopular dictator, he could face rebellion if most of his security was deployed elsewhere.
Not only is Lukashenko unpopular with Belarusians, many of whom seek friendlier ties with their geopolitical enemies such as Ukraine and Poland, but the Russian offensive is also unpopular. As Russia helped crush the Minsk protests, many Belarusians took up arms with the Ukrainian Armed Forces, forming a Free Byelorussian Army with the goal of overthrowing the Kremlin proxy.
Any prospect of an invasion could spark an insurgency, and Lukashenko also risks a possible insurrection by his own armed forces if an unpopular war leads to military action with heavy casualties. Putin himself is looming as a potential threat. As seen in Georgia, Armenia, and Ukraine, the Russian autocrat does not take offense well, nor does he go soft on vassals who stray from his line of sight.
Relying on a tyrant to strengthen his tyranny may backfire on Lukashenko. Whether he invades Ukraine or not, he is still in trouble., The fall of Putin’s regime would open up a huge opportunity for Belarusians to overthrow the Minsk autocracy, but even direct intervention could seal their fate. For 30 years, Alexander Lukashenko has considered himself an untouchable. His greatness is now in an hourglass.