kyiv believes that Moscow is seeking the participation of one of its last allies in the great offensive that it is preparing for next month.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has traveled to Russia to meet his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, seven times throughout 2022. However, Putin had not visited Belarus for three years, since 2019. He had to do so this Monday to try once again to convince Lukashenko to get more involved in the war against Ukraine, something that Minsk has been trying to avoid since the conflict broke out. The truth is that the head of the Kremlin has met no other foreign leader as many times as he, one of his few remaining allies.
Both leaders saw each other alone after doing so in the presence of their respective delegations, where Lukashenko stated that “despite some harshness, Russia and Belarus find answers to all threats.” In his words, Belarus “hopes that the West will listen to the voice of reason and resume the security dialogue.”
The Belarusian president explained that his meeting with Putin was due to “the impossibility of the respective governments to resolve a series of issues”, although he stressed that, thanks to joint work, the two countries “managed to overcome the possible negative consequences of pressure from “Western” sanctions. He stressed that “the solution of sensitive economic issues in order to guarantee the well-being of the population is a priority” for Russia and Belarus.
Putin expressed himself along the same lines, who also described the economic relationship with Belarus, against whom the United States and the European Union have applied several batches of sanctions, as a “priority.” The top Russian leader said he expected a new record in commercial turnover this year, which will reach, according to his figures, close to 40,000 million euros. “We must be satisfied with how our cooperation is developing (…) Belarus is our ally in the broad sense of the term,” Putin said. Later, during the press conference, the Russian president assured that his country does not intend to annex Belarus, according to his words, “it has no interest in absorbing anyone. It just doesn’t make sense.”
Although the two presidents tried to highlight the economic aspect of this new meeting, the truth is that the real substance of the talks, especially those that were held face to face without the presence of advisers and ministers, has been military cooperation. Lukashenko acknowledged this when he pointed out that “the issues that have occupied us the most lately have been those of defense and security” and especially “Russia’s commitment” to protecting the “independence of Belarus” against possible NATO attacks. Instead of sitting across from each other, as is customary in bilateral state meetings, they did so together, something the Belarusian media believe “emphasizes the friendly and close nature of the relations.”
However, in the opinion of the Ukrainian general, Sergiy Náyev, the real objective of Putin’s trip to Minsk has been “to involve the Armed Forces of Belarus more broadly in the war against Ukraine (…) to achieve their participation even in the invasion land”. Last week, Ukrainian President Volodimir Zelensky, his Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov, and several Ukrainian Army generals warned that Russian troops are preparing a major offensive for January with the intention of attacking kyiv from Belarusian territory.
On Friday, Putin convened his Security Council and called for more “interaction” with Belarus on defense matters. On the same day, the Russian president met with the military command to order measures to speed up military operations in Ukraine. Today, precisely, in Minsk, the Russian and Belarusian Defense Ministers, Sergei Shoigu and Victor Jrenin, participated in the talks. The first inspected the Russian units taking part in the invasion over the weekend.
Restlessness in Germany
The meeting between Putin and Lukashenko, according to the German Chancellor’s spokesman, Steffen Gebeshtreit, in statements to the DW, has caused concern in the German government. Due to the “question of possible further modification of the role of Belarus in Russia’s aggressive war against Ukraine.” So far, Minsk has helped Russia in the fighting by providing Russian troops with its territory for deployment and its airspace for Moscow’s fighter jets.
The Russian Defense Ministry announced Monday that its Army will carry out new tactical exercises in Belarus. “The final characterization of the capacity and combat readiness of the joint units will be given by the command in the final coordination stage, after the tactical exercises have been carried out,” the military statement said. The text ensures that the training is carried out “day and night” so that the coordination rate of both armies “is high.”
The promoter of the inconclusive union of Russia and Belarus was Lukashenko, but he later rectified and turned his back on Moscow. The current Belarusian president and Putin’s predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, signed in the Kremlin, on December 8, 1999, the agreement for the creation of a unitary state, it was the fourth document after three previous attempts that failed. It provided for the creation of a confederal structure with the same economic and defense policy with a single currency.
But the plan did not come to fruition. There was, yes, some progress. Taking the European Union as a reference, they created a common economic space and eliminated border and customs controls, which were later restored. Now, the Kremlin intends to revive the project to give it a more military orientation and reinforce its offensive in Ukraine.
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