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Russia’s war on Ukraine has strengthened Lukashenka but undermined Belarus

EXPERT COMMENT

Aliaksandr Lukashenka has capitalized on the conflict, but his regime’s dependence on Russia is eroding Belarusian sovereignty.

Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine almost two years ago caused turbulence for Belarusian ruler Aliaksandr Lukashenka, who was labelled a Putin lackey or co-belligerent. But 2023 has seen somewhat of a turnaround. Lukashenka has pivoted to selling his non-direct involvement as an asset. As Ukrainian intelligence chief Kyrylo Budanov grudgingly acknowledged: ’Let’s not absolve Lukashenka, but credit is due for preventing any repeated invasion attempts from Belarus.’

The West, grappling with the war itself, has lost interest in Belarus as a sideshow. Lukashenka’s human rights abuses, while significant, are not regarded on a par with Putin’s war crimes. As the West lacks the ability to influence Lukashenka’s actions, its policy towards the country has narrowed to sanctions and financial support for civil society.

Despite the imposition of strong economic sanctions by the West, Belarus’s economy grew by 3.5 per cent year-on-year in the first nine months of 2023. Belarus has been shielded from the full impact of sanctions by the Kremlin’s willingness to offset losses with energy subsidies exceeding $15 billion in 2022 – and likely to remain at a similar level this year – and new trade opportunities, including in the defence sector.

The fact that incomes have risen despite a war between two neighbouring countries solidifies a sense among Belarusians that their ruler may be a tyrant, but he is not foolish. Lukashenka’s abstract calls for an immediate end to the war through negotiations have also helped him distance himself slightly from the Kremlin’s actions.

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Original article link: https://www.chathamhouse.org/2023/12/russias-war-ukraine-has-strengthened-lukashenka-undermined-belarus

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