A Belarusian national flag flutters over a street in Minsk, Belarus, Feb. 16, 2022.
Alexander Zemlianichenko Jr./AP
Belarus is playing a critical role in Russia's invasion of Ukraine. The country has become a staging ground for the Russian military's push into Ukraine.
Moscow deployed forces to Belarusian territory just weeks before invading Ukraine, under the pretext of "joint military drills."
A Ukrainian military official said Belarusian troops joined the war Tuesday in the Chernihiv region in the north, without providing further details. But Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has said his country had no plans to join the fight directly.
Belarus also hosted the first attempts at negotiations between Ukraine and Russia this week. Delegations failed to make progress as shelling continues for the sixth day in several cities across Ukraine.
Marco Werman: Why is the Belarusian government so involved in Vladimir Putin's war?
Katia Glod: Well, the regime of Alexander Lukashenko has been very close with the Kremlin since the fraudulent election — presidential election — of August 2020, when Lukashenko is believed to have lost the election and he was not recognized as the legitimate president by the West, and the only support he received was from Vladimir Putin and from the Kremlin. Since then, the Kremlin has been very involved in the politics in Belarus, as well as in the economics, giving Belarus money to survive after the West imposed sanctions on Belarus, and also supporting Lukashenko politically. The Kremlin did not do it just for granted — it wanted something in exchange, and the price that Belarus had to pay in return was getting closer to Russia in terms of economic integration and in terms of defense. And the latest development is a very clear example of how close Belarus came to Russia in defense and how, basically, the Kremlin really controls the armed forces of Belarus, and Lukashenko is not really in command any longer.
There's a lot of disinformation out there. President Lukashenko said today that Belarus would not send troops to Ukraine. At the same time, Ukraine said today that Belarus has sent in troops. How involved in the conflict is Belarus, actually?
So far, we can say for certain only that the Russian army has attacked Ukraine from Belarus. Russian convoys of weapons and troops — they moved from the side of Belarus. They occupied the area around Chernobyl, and they are currently moving closer toward Kyiv. We also know that there have been several missiles shot from the territory of Belarus. However, we don't really know if the Belarusian troops or Belarusian weapons have been involved in the war in Ukraine. Indeed, Lukashenko has said that this is not the case. I don't think we can trust his word, but also for political reasons, because war is so [very] unpopular in Belarus, and Belarusians receive so much more alternative information than, for example, people in Russia, it would be very bad for public opinion in Belarus, for Lukashenko to get directly involved. But what is also quite likely is, in case Russia would need more support — this is what Lukashenko said two days ago — that "If there's [a] need for Belarus and for Russia to participate in this war, we will." I would trust his word that he would do this.
You mentioned the fraudulent 2020 election that brought President Lukashenko another term in office. An important moment in the recent relations between Belarus and Russia. We also saw last year the largest anti-government protests in the history of Belarus. So, how is Lukashenko's future tied to the outcome of what happens in Ukraine?
Well, on the one hand, Lukashenko is now very much dependent on Putin. He depends on Putin economically and politically, economically because the West has imposed quite severe sanctions on Belarus following this fraudulent 2020 elections. The effect of these sanctions has been felt quite strongly in the recent months. Therefore, economically, it depends on the Kremlin giving Belarus loans. However, we have also seen that the Kremlin hasn't been so generous as it had been in the past years. For example, last week, Lukashenko asked for a $3.9 billion loan from the Kremlin, and the Kremlin had agreed to give only $1 billion. And if Russia also answers to the burden of sanctions, they would not be able to support Belarus financially. It's hard to imagine what Lukashenko would do — and he might as well think about changing some of his policies.
Policies like what? What can you imagine happening?
He might start talking to the Belarusian opposition. He might start releasing political prisoners and he might start, well, first of all, he might support start supporting, militarily, Russia less. But that, of course, remains to be seen how the current conflict will play out.
AP contributed to this report.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
Sign up for our daily newsletter
Sign up for The Top of the World, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning.