Belarus 'strongman' Alexander Lukashenko: in fact, he has been forced to unify his country's economy with the Russian Federation (Photo: МИД России)


The slow-mo absorption of Belarus into Russia

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As most of the globe continues to focus on Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine and the Israel-Hamas war, another development is afoot. The Russian Federation is slowly forcing Belarus into a union state.

This was most apparent during the 2020 Belarusian presidential election. In August 2020, Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko was challenged by opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya.

Desperate to stay in power, Lukashenko falsified the voting, stating he won the election heftily. The Belarusian opposition movement, as well as members within the international community, declared the results a farce. Thousands of Belarusians would also gather to protest the election results, where dozens were wrongfully imprisoned and tortured by the Belarusian government.

Threatened by the opposition movement, Lukashenko turned to Russian president Vladimir Putin for assistance. The two counterparts met on several occasions. In an act of desperation, Lukashenko requested that Putin intervene. In response, Russian “peacekeeping” forces were sent to Belarus to thwart the opposition protests. In addition, several Belarusian media programmes were replaced by Russian journalists and propagandists. Finally, numerous opposition members were imprisoned, and many more were forced into exile.

Since the election, the Belarusian government has continued these political tactics. The Belarusian media sympathised with the Russian state and its media service. Meanwhile, Belarusian news outlets have created disinformation and propaganda campaigns against Western institutions and foreign dignitaries. In other words, Belarus has transformed its political climate to mirror Russia’s.

The government has targeted and imprisoned opposition members, it has launched propaganda campaigns against them, and it has strengthened its foothold by banning political parties that oppose the current power structure. This was especially the case during the 2024 parliamentary elections, where “only candidates loyal to [Lukashenko] were allowed” to run for political office.

Aside from these political developments, Lukashenko’s government has aligned itself with Russia through other means. This is most apparent with the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine.

De fact province of Russia

Over the past two years, Russia has violated Belarus’s sovereignty by stationing troops in the country. This occupying force has transferred weapons and equipment from Russia into Belarus to equip the invading force in Ukraine. The Russians have also fired missiles from Belarusian territory, and they have conducted airstrikes across the Belarusian-Ukrainian border. In other words, due to Belarus’s geographical positioning with Ukraine and the benefits Belarus provided to Russia during the war, Belarus has effectively become a de facto province of the Russian Federation.

Most Belarusian citizens oppose the Russian invasion of Ukraine. They do not want Belarusian soldiers to support Russia, and they do not want their country dragged into the war. Despite this stiff opposition, Lukashenko has ignored the statements made by his constituents. Instead, he has succumbed to Putin’s bidding.

Beyond these political and defence changes, Belarus has been forced to unify its economy with the Russian Federation. Given international sanctions and other pressures from the international community, Belarus has turned to Russia as an economic lifeline. According to the World Bank, Belarus exports most of its goods to Russia. The Belarusian government has also requested and accepted numerous loans from the Russian Federation, which has allowed the Belarusian economy to stay afloat. Due to this financial assistance, Belarus has become indebted to Russia.

What's next?

But the economic union has not ended there. According to recent reports, Lukashenka and Putin met to discuss “macroeconomic, tax, and customs integration programs [for their countries]” for 2024 to 2026.

Under this process, Belarus and Russia would create “conditions for a unified monetary policy.” Should the implementation of this plan be successful, Belarus would lose further aspects of its sovereignty as its economic policy would be directly tied to Russia.

Finally, but perhaps most alarming, was a report published by Yahoo News discussing the forced Belarusian integration with Russia. The article sourced a leaked internal strategy document from the Russian government. The document outlined a plan on how the Russian Federation can annex Belarus through political, military, and economic means. By pursuing this strategy, the leaked document stated that Russia should be able to fully establish the Russo-Belarusian union state by 2030.

Given the current trajectory of Russo-Belarusian relations, the union state may be inevitable. Since 2020, the Belarusian government has adopted Russian-style politics. The Belarusian government is targeting the political opposition, and it has transformed its media to mirror Russian propaganda. Second, Belarus has effectively become a home for Russia’s military. The Russians have launched attacks on Ukraine from Belarusian territory, and Belarus has become a base of operation for Russia’s armed forces. Finally, the Belarusian economy has become heavily intertwined with the Russian economy. The Russian Federation is dictating monetary policy within Belarus, and the Belarusian state is indebted to Russia.

In other words, Russia has slowly established control over Belarus’s political institutions, the military, and the economy. It appears that the union state is all but here.

Belarus 'strongman' Alexander Lukashenko: in fact, he has been forced to unify his country's economy with the Russian Federation (Photo: МИД России)


Author Bio

Mark Temnycky is an accredited freelance journalist covering Eurasian affairs and a nonresident fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center.


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