The “migration crisis” on the EU’s eastern borders, ongoing for several months, has intensified in recent weeks, leading to a state of emergency in the Polish and Lithuanian border areas with Belarus. The issue of introducing the state of emergency is also being considered in Ukraine.
Another escalation has led to the death of migrants, significant border clashes, and raised the question of the possible imposition of new sanctions against the Belarusian regime.
Amid the escalation of the crisis, the EU’s political leadership has taken an unprecedented step and entered into direct talks with illegitimate President Alexander Lukashenko. This is the first time since the 2020 elections that someone from the Western political leadership has come into direct contact with him.
Belarusian and Russian propaganda perceived the fact of such talks as another victory, proof of Lukashenko’s influence on the processes in Europe, and full recognition of the Belarusian dictator by the EU.
At the same time, the situation with migrants from the very beginning was actively pictured in the information space of Russia and Belarus as indisputable proof of the inhumane nature of Western democracies.
In recent days, the situation at the border has stabilized, and a significant number of migrants have been moved from makeshift camps near the border to special detention centers organized by the Belarusian authorities. In fact, this happened immediately after Lukashenko’s talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. They had two telephone conversations. This fact raises reasonable suspicions that one of the main goals of the organizers of the crisis was the desire to achieve recognition of the Belarusian government by the EU leadership and the lifting of sanctions imposed on the country after the 2020 events.
Although there is no information in the official communiqué about the content of the talks, Estonian Foreign Minister Eva-Maria Liimets said Lukashenko had set two conditions for the EU to end the migration crisis: to be recognized as the legally elected leader of Belarus and for sanctions to be lifted.
However, this blackmail did not work, on November 29, the Estonian Foreign Minister announced that the fifth package of sanctions against Belarus should be approved on December 2.
Moreover, many Western and Ukrainian experts believe that the “migration crisis”, and in fact hybrid aggression on the EU’s eastern borders, can be only a part of the master plan and serve as a distraction from Russia’s plans for Ukraine.
This version looks very plausible given the completion of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, Russia’s overtly subversive actions in the energy market, Belarus’s sabotage of the Ukrainian energy system, significant intensification of anti-Ukrainian propaganda in Russia, and the active build-up of the Russian Armed Forces’ military presence on the Ukrainian border.
Internationally reputable media and experts increasingly warn that the risk of Russia’s invasion is extremely high, and the Russian army is preparing to repeat the 2008 Georgian scenario. However, such activity of the Russian army can also be explained by the blackmail of the West and issues of certification and launch of Nord Stream 2, as this launch will clearly increase Moscow’s influence in the EU.
Integration with Russia
On November 4, a regular online meeting of the Supreme State Council of the Union State took place. At the meeting, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and self-proclaimed President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko approved 28 union integration programs.
The word “harmonization” is very common in documents agreed in September. This refers to the harmonization of the currency systems of the two countries, the creation of a common payment space, and new taxation principles. They also concern the unification of legislation, the construction of a single energy market, industrial and agricultural policy, and so on. There are no details about all 28 union programs. It is also unknown how they will be implemented.
Despite the intensified process of building the Union State, it seems that only Putin is interested in building it, and for the illegitimate Lukashenko, this whole story is a mere tool to prolong his political life (see also Belarus-Russia: Integration or imitation).
This is evidenced by the lack of real steps towards integration, as well as some steps of the Belarusian leader, which cause rejection in Russia itself.
For instance, Lukashenko recently claimed that if sanctions were imposed against his country, he could cut off gas supplies to Europe.
Such statements have outraged not only the EU but also Russia, as both gas and supply pipelines are owned by Gazprom, not the Belarusian government. Therefore, Lukashenko has no legal opportunity to cut off gas supplies to the EU (however, the issue of legality has never been relevant for the Belarusian regime).
The point that such statements were surprising for the Russian government can be evidenced by that Putin had to comment publicly on this situation. He expressed hope that the actual cessation of supplies will not happen.
Therefore, as of today, real political integration between Belarus and Russia seems impossible, as it is of no interferes for Alexander Lukashenko and is even dangerous for him.
However, this does not guarantee that Russian troops will not manage to use the territory of Belarus as a springboard for aggression against Ukraine. After all, Lukashenko does not show any counteraction to the deployment of Russian troops on the territory of Belarus, rather the opposite. Moreover, an updated military doctrine was adopted on November 4.
The military doctrine was first adopted 20 years ago, but in 2018 the document was updated and approved by heads of government. The new version takes into account “the realities of the geopolitical and military-strategic situation in Europe and military threats”. In particular, expanding and building NATO’s military capabilities, technology of “color revolutions”, provoking internal conflicts, etc.
Secretary of State of the Union State Dmitry Mezentsev noted that the new document will increase the coherence of defense policy, taking into account changes in the regional military-political situation and “unprecedented pressure” on Moscow and Minsk.
Among the tasks set, the priority is to develop a single regional grouping of troops and integrated military systems.
A plan for military cooperation between Russia and Belarus until 2024 has also been developed. As a result of these documents:
· On November 8, the agreement on the deployment of Russian military facilities on the territory of Belarus was extended for 25 years: the 43rd Communications Center of the Russian Navy “Vileyka” and the radar station “Volga”;
· training and combat centers are being established for joint training of Air Force and Air Defense specialists;
· On November 10, two long-range Russian Tu-22m3 bombers patrolled the airspace of Belarus. During the flight, they worked out cooperation with ground control points of the Armed Forces of Russia and the Republic of Belarus;
· On November 11, two Tu-160 strategic bombers of the Russian Air Force with nuclear warheads made a training flight over the Ruzhany proving ground 60 km east of the Polish border, and Belarusian fighters simulated their interception. The Ministry of Defense stated that such flights will be performed regularly in order to strengthen the alliance between the countries;
· On November 13, Lukashenko announced the need for several Iskander divisions in the western and southern directions.
Such Belarusian-Russian activity in Minsk is explained by a “hybrid war” against Belarus, which is “unleashed in almost all directions”.
“We don’t know what they will plant on us. Could we have imagined that we would have some kind of migration crisis? However, it has arisen. And it is constantly heated up”, – Lukashenko said at a meeting on military security on November 29.
At the same time, the authorities of the republic blame the neighbors who have begun to strengthen their own borders with Belarus. In particular, Poland and the Baltic states were accused of an “unprecedented” increase of military presence at the border, and Ukraine – of conducting the “Polissya” special operation. Lukashenko also hinted that in case of a new round of the Russian-Ukrainian war or an escalation in the ORDLO, his regime will support Russia:
“They understand perfectly well that if they start a war again in Donbas or somewhere on the border with Russia, Belarus will not stay aside. And it is clear whose side Belarus will be on. They understand this, so they began to strengthen their northern, Belarusian-Ukrainian border. Although there is no reason for that today”.
Thus, it is clear that in the end, the events in Belarus are beneficial only to Moscow, which can score it as its own geopolitical victory. Millions of Belarusians have been held hostage by the situation and are being dragged back into the alliance with Russia. They are deprived of the right to their own language, opinion, and national self-identification, as well as neighboring countries, especially Ukraine.
At present, relations between Russia and Belarus resemble a watchman and a bear in an iron age. The Kremlin wants to demonstrate to the international community its influence on the violent “bear” Lukashenko, who can only be controlled by Putin. For its own audience, the self-proclaimed president of Belarus is used to appease the mood of Russians. An example of this is Lukashenko’s latest statement to the Kremlin’s Russia Today agency, in which he said that Crimea was “de facto Russian”, and after the “referendum” it “de jure” became “Russian”; he also promised to visit the peninsula.
However, words are one thing, but whether Lukashenko will dare to really intervene in the Russian-Ukrainian military conflict is an open question.
Authors: Borys Grachov, Oksana Kuzan