EU Must Send Strong Message to Belarus — And Russia

The interception of a Ryanair plane by Belarus is a breach of international right.

The crew was told by Belarusian officials there was a bomb threat, and they needed to divert to Minsk. It was a ploy to kidnap opposition blogger Roman Protasevich, who was traveling on the flight from Greece to Lithuania.

The Western response has so far been one of shared indignation. This must be followed by concrete action against dictator Alexander Lukashenko — not in the least to send a strong message to his protector in Moscow. Read more “EU Must Send Strong Message to Belarus — And Russia”

Lukashenko Shouldn’t Expect Russia’s Help

Vladimir Putin
Russian president Vladimir Putin listens during a meeting in Voronezh, August 5, 2014 (Kremlin)

Alexander Lukashenko could have gone down in history as the father of the Belarusian state. Now “Europe’s last dictator” is on his last leg. A rigged election has unleashed unprecedented protests.

Desperate, Lukashenko has turned to his ally, Vladimir Putin, for help. Belarusian state media report that Russia has promised to provide military assistance if Lukashenko asks for it. This has sparked speculation that Russia might intervene in Belarus much as it did in Ukraine when its Russia-friendly president, Viktor Yanukovich, was ousted in 2014.

That doesn’t seem likely. In fact, Russia may be better off with Lukashenko gone. Read more “Lukashenko Shouldn’t Expect Russia’s Help”

Belarus’ Lukashenko Under Pressure from All Sides

Mike Pompeo Alexander Lukashenko
American secretary of state Mike Pompeo meets with President Alexander Lukashenko and other Belarusian officials in Minsk, February 1 (State Department/Ron Przysucha)

Belarus’ Alexander Lukashenko has been in power for 26 years. He is expected to win what will likely be a rigged election on Sunday, but he may not get a landslide this time. The cracks in his regime are widening. Read more “Belarus’ Lukashenko Under Pressure from All Sides”

In Minsk, Pompeo Is All Talk

Mike Pompeo Alexander Lukashenko
American secretary of state Mike Pompeo meets with President Alexander Lukashenko and other Belarusian officials in Minsk, February 1 (State Department/Ron Przysucha)

Tensions between Belarus and Russia prompted American secretary of state Mike Pompeo to pay Alexander Lukashenko a visit this weekend. He told the Belarusian leader that the United States could fulfill all of his country’s oil needs if he wants to become “independent” from Russia.

This shouldn’t be taken seriously. Besides the hypocrisy — how “independent” would Belarus be if it traded its dependence on Russia for a dependence on the United States? — it would be logistically and financially almost impossible for America to meet the complete oil needs of Russia’s closest ally.

Pompeo’s remarks do suggest America is willing to help Belarus from being absorbed by Russia. But how much can it really do? Read more “In Minsk, Pompeo Is All Talk”

Lukashenko Isn’t Interested in Belarus-Russia Union

Earlier this month, the presidents of Belarus and Russia met in Sochi to discuss a merger of their two states. Nothing came of the meeting. Another is due on Friday. It is unlikely to produce results either.

At this rate, the annual talks about closer integration are becoming a tradition without meaning.

Alexander Lukashenko may not mind, but Vladimir Putin does. Read more “Lukashenko Isn’t Interested in Belarus-Russia Union”

Belarus-Russia Relations Aren’t As Close As They Seem

Russian president Vladimir Putin on Saturday gave the go-ahead for the construction of an air base in neighboring Belarus, deepening security ties with his nation’s closest ally.

But the relationship has also suffered as a result of Russia’s occupation and annexation of the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine, another former Soviet republic, in 2014.

Russian defense officials say the new base will be used to station Su-27 fighter jets which could menace the airspace of NATO members Latvia, Lithuania and Poland.

The Financial Times characterizes the decision to build it as “the latest example of Moscow’s determination to assert its influence beyond Russia’s borders and rebuild its military capacities which have been severely eroded since the collapse of the Soviet Union 24 years ago.”

The newspaper also reports that the regime in Minsk dragged its feet on the air base proposal despite previously taking steps to integrate its armed forces with Russia’s. Read more “Belarus-Russia Relations Aren’t As Close As They Seem”

Belarus, Russia to Stage European Defense Exercise

Belarus and Russia are due to hold their joint Zapad (“West”) 2013 military exercise next week, a combined operational training involving nearly 13,000 personnel, 350 combat vehicles, including seventy tanks, over fifty artillery units, Multiple Launch Rocket Systems as well as over fifty aircraft and ships, including the Azov amphibious support vessel to rehearse and test rapid reaction capabilities across Belarus and Russia’s Western Military District. The majority of activity will be concentrated around Russia’s Kaliningrad Oblast and at six Belarusian firing ranges, along with limited naval components in the Baltic and Barents Seas.

This mobilization marks an upgrade from the last Russian-Belarusian exercise, Zapad 2009, which involved only two hundred vehicles. The 2009 exercise was centered around missile defense, including a controversial hypothetical nuclear strike on a neighboring country. Read more “Belarus, Russia to Stage European Defense Exercise”

Russia Plans to Deploy Fighter Jets to Belarus

Russia’s defense minister, General Sergei Shoigu, said on Tuesday his country is in talks with neighboring Belarus to permanently deploy fighter jets to the former Soviet republic.

“We hope that in 2015 there will be a regiment of warplanes which will serve to defend our borders,” Shoigu said during a meeting with Belarus’ president, Alexander Lukashenko, in Minsk.

Russia agreed in 2009 to establish a joint air defense with its ally. The deployment of fighter planes would boost Russia’s military presence in a country that is seen in Moscow as a buffer between it and the West.

Despite growing trade relations, ties between authoritarian Belarus and the rest of Europe have been strained. European Union member states are especially uncomfortable about their energy dependence on Russia which exports oil through the Druzhba pipeline network, a branch of which runs through Belarus, on which Poland and Germany rely for respectively 90 and 20 percent of their petroleum imports. Read more “Russia Plans to Deploy Fighter Jets to Belarus”

Belarus, Europe Preparing Diplomatic Countermeasures

Diplomatic relations between Belarus and the European Union have been deteriorating with the latest news of European ambassadors leaving Minsk for home. EU states have recalled their top diplomats in solidarity with Brussels and Warsaw whose envoys were kicked out by Belarus. For the EU ambassadors to return to work, condition is that Belarus will have to release and rehabilitate its political prisoners. The news has been that Belarusian regime is now preparing to ban one hundred or so leading opposition figures.

The European Union finds Belarus once again on top of its political agenda with new tit for tat measures taken against each other.

Both sides are preparing fresh countermeasures against each other, with Belarus threatening to limit the presence of EU embassies and companies operating in Belarus while the EU is preparing to add one or more Belarus oligarchs to its blacklist in March. This week’s events have a precedent in the so-called Drazdy dispute of 1998 when President Alexander Lukashenko confiscated the homes of Western diplomats. Read more “Belarus, Europe Preparing Diplomatic Countermeasures”