Commentary Why Is Belarus Helping Russia Wage War Against Ukraine

TAMPA, Florida: Russia is attacking Ukraine, but Belarus, a neighbouring country, is “the other aggressor in this war”, European Union President Ursula von der Leyen said, on Feb 27.

One politician, Alexander Lukashenko, has ruled Belarus with a draconian hand for the last 28 years, with no interruption in power. And now, Lukashenko is supporting Russia in the war, reciprocating Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recent help in maintaining his own political power.

Putin is using Belarus as a staging ground for his war, which has resulted in at least 500 Ukrainian civilian deaths and caused more than 1 million people to flee the country. Russian troops have crossed into Ukraine through the Belarusian border in the north.

Having studied Eastern Europe, I believe that there are three key points to understand about Belarus’ involvement in the Ukraine war.

Belarus is a former Soviet republic of 9.4 million people that borders both Russia and Ukraine, as well as Lithuania, Latvia and Poland. It is also Europe’s last dictatorship.

Lukashenko has spent nearly three decades balancing his ties to both Western powers and Putin. But the last presidential election marked a turning point that pushed Lukashenko closer toward Putin.

Lukashenko claimed victory after the Aug 9, 2020, election, which international experts widely consider fraudulent. Lukashenko received 80 per cent of the popular vote, an impossibly favourable result given the public discontent with his regime.

An unprecedented public uprising followed, as hundreds of thousands of Belarusians protested the election results.

Putin offered financial and military support to help Lukashenko silence the protests — without any international response or pushback. Putin also warned foreign powers not to interfere in Belarus’ affairs.

This promise boosted Lukashenko’s confidence and feelings of impunity. Belarusian police subsequently attacked protesters with water cannons, tear gas and stun grenades.