Lukashenko’s first visit to Abkhazia
On 28 September, Alexander Lukashenko met in Pitsunda with de facto leader of Abkhazia, Aslan Bzhania. Although his visit to the separatist republic was devoted to establishing economic and commercial ties with the Sukhumi establishment, the context in which it took place – a day after the Belarusian president’s meeting with Vladimir Putin in Sochi – cannot be ignored. In fact, he admitted that the Russian president urged him to go to Abkhazia, not to abandon that territory and to help its citizens live peaceful lives. By making his first visit to the secessionist region -an unofficial one- Europe’s last dictator showed that he still remains Russia’s last ally on the international arena. His attempt to institutionalize Belarus’ relations with Russian-backed separatist republics is not surprising, given that presently the country is diplomatically isolated and faces waves of harsh sanctions from the West because of the support it has offered to the Russian Federation in starting the “special military operation” in Ukraine. Nevertheless, it is hard to believe that the Belarusian president will succumb to the pressure exerted on him by Vladimir Putin and recognize Abkhazia’s independence. Signing such a decree would open a Pandora’s box for Lukashenko, who could be forced by the Kremlin to make other concessions, such as the recognition of pseudo-referendums held in the Ukrainian territories occupied by Russia, the independence of South Ossetia, or its admission – together with Abkhazia – into the State Union, which would lead to the loss of Belarus’ status as Moscow’s main ally in this international organization.
The details of Alexander Lukashenko’s meeting with Aslan Bzhania appeared on the websites of the main Belarusian news agency – Belta -, the Foreign Ministry, as well as that of the presidential administration only after he returned to Minsk. This shows that his visit in the Caucasus region had been an unplanned one, that had taken the Belarusian authorities by surprise. However, this was not the case with the Georgian ones, who strongly condemned the trip of the Belarusian president to Abkhazia. Minister of Foreign Affairs Ilya Darchiashvili summoned the Belarusian ambassador to Tbilisi in order to protest Lukashenko’s visit to the breakaway region and his meeting with “representatives of the occupation regime.” President Salome Zourabichvili also denounced Lukashenko, calling his trip an “unacceptable violation” of Georgian sovereignty.
Lukashenko convened meetings to discuss military security
A few days after he returned to Minsk, the head of the state organized a first meeting with Belarusian officials (including the Prime Minister, the Head of the Presidential Administration, the Minister of the Interior, the Minister of Defense, army commanders as well as heads of the secret services) under the pretext of the worsening situation on the country’s western border. However, the Belarusian president made yet another concession to his counterpart Vladimir Putin, choosing to deliberately worsen diplomatic relations with Ukraine.During the meeting, Lukashenko repeated the main anti-Western narrative, which he kept repeating after February 24th (the United States and its allies are trying to destroy Belarus and Russia) and claimed that, in the coming weeks, the Russian Federation will intensify the “special military operation” launched on the Ukraine’s territory. Moreover, he has confirmed that Belarus is taking part in it but is doing so allegedly by treating wounded Russian soldiers and providing food and shelter to Ukrainian refugees. The head of the state also added that the Belarusian participation is aimed at preventing the spread of this conflict to the country’s territory as well as to prevent a strike on Belarus under the cover of a special military operation by Poland, Lithuania and Latvia. At the end of the meeting, he ordered officials in the security apparatus to carefully monitor the country’s borders and stop the provocations launched by Ukraine.
Belarusian authorities stepped up their attacks on Ukrainian officials immediately after Lukashenko’s return from the informal CIS summit held in St. Petersburg. The next day, Minister of Foreign Affairs Vladimir Makei summoned Ukrainian Ambassador Igor Kizim to the ministry’s headquarters and handed him a diplomatic note protesting against the so-called plans of the Ukrainian authorities to attack Belarus. At the same time, the head of the Border Committee Anatoly Luppo claimed that the Ukrainian army organizes provocations at the Belarusian borders, including air reconnaissance operations as well as destruction of roads and bridges. Moreover, on October 10th, Alexander Lukashenko held a second meeting with Belarusian officials in which he announced that, due to the worsening situation on the western borders of the Union State, Belarus and Russia would deploy a joint regional group of forces there. In addition, the head of the state stated that over a thousand Russian soldiers would come to the country and warned the West not to try to launch a strike on Belarus from the territory of Ukraine in order to draw it into the war.
However, the one who is constantly putting pressure on Lukashenko so as to force him to send the Belarusian army into the “special military operation” in Ukraine is Vladimir Putin, who further suggested to him during the meeting in St. Petersburg to start the procedures for the creation of the joint regional group of troops. But there are some uncertainties. According to the military doctrine of Belarus, this regional group of forces of the Union State must be led by a joint command, whose composition is to be approved in a meeting of the Supreme Council of the State Union. Given Lukashenko’s inferiority status within this international organization controlled exclusively by the Russian Federation, it may be possible for a Russian general to take over the leadership of the joint command and thus force the entry of the Belarusian army into the war in Ukraine, just as Vladimir Putin wants. If this scenario were implemented, the authority of the Belarusian president would obviously be undermined and the country would lose its last shred of independence. Moreover, Lukashenko’s desire to help his counterpart and thus accept the involvement of the Belarusian armed forces in the conflict is questionable. The Belarusian president understands the reality on the ground, is aware of the difficulties the Russian military faces in the Ukrainian counter-offensive and is certainly afraid to send his inexperienced and poorly equipped soldiers to fight within Ukraine. But Lukashenko may also have to make this concession to Vladimir Putin, because he is the only one who guarantees his political survival. With the entry of Belarusian soldiers into the war, the Belarusian president will still have to assume the status of an international pariah – unless he has already done so after the August 2020 presidential elections. However, in the coming months, Alexander Lukashenko may allow a significantly larger Russian army of up to 300,000 soldiers (after the partial mobilization) to use Belarusian territory with the aim of attacking Kyiv again.
Image source: thesoufancenter.org