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When the Russian invasion of Ukraine began, Russian President Vladimir Putin worked hard to try and coerce Belarus into joining his war. On multiple occasions, Belarusian President Aliaksandr Lukashenka said that he would not send Belarusian forces into Ukraine. The Belarusian leader said that his country’s involvement would only “make things worse,” and that it would lead to the loss of additional life. But as the war continues, Putin has successfully coerced Lukashenka to do his bidding.
It is important to note that most Belarusian citizens oppose Russia’s invasion and the war. Polling data has found that most Belarusians “do not want their country to play any part in the war.” Some have even gone to great lengths to sabotage Russian efforts.
For example, Lukashenka and his regime have allowed Russia to transport soldiers and equipment into Belarus. In response, several Belarusian rail workers “hacked the Belarusian railway network to prevent Russian troops from entering Ukraine.” In addition, rail workers took apart rail tracks, ultimately delaying the transportation of Russian soldiers and equipment.
Outside of these civilian efforts, members of the Belarusian military have also opposed Lukashenka’s decisions to work closely with Russia. Servicemembers have stated that they oppose the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Meanwhile, some military officers have resigned as they disagree with Lukashenka’s policies. Others have left the Belarusian military to serve as volunteers in Ukraine and defend the country from Russia. Finally, numerous Belarusian soldiers have “refused to join [Russia’s] fight.”
The actions taken by Belarusian citizens and servicemembers show a very different Belarus between these two groups and the Lukashenka regime. Unfortunately, despite these protests, Lukashenka has dragged his country into the war.
When the war began in February 2022, Lukashenka allowed Russian forces to use his country as a launchpad into northern Ukraine. To date, numerous Russian soldiers are still stationed in Belarus, and Russian military hardware and equipment are being transported to the country. Lukashenka has allowed Putin to launch missile and air strikes on Ukraine from Belarusian territory. Finally, the Belarusian government has provided Russia with supplies for its war.
While Lukashenka will claim that Belarusian soldiers are not fighting in Ukraine alongside Russia, the Belarusian leader is far from innocent in atrocities committed by the Russian state. Instead, the Belarusian government is complicit in Russia’s war crimes and actions in Ukraine.
Forced Transfer of Children
As the war continues, information on Belarus’s involvement has become more readily available. Just recently, and in a shocking revelation, the Red Cross in Belarus announced that it is involved in the forced transfer and relocation of Ukrainian children from Ukraine.
According to a report by The Guardian, Dzmitry Shautou, the head of the Red Cross in Belarus, stated that his organization is “actively involved in bringing Ukrainian children from Russian-occupied areas [in Ukraine] to Belarus.” Shautou added that his organization would continue to take an active part in these activities.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) has already issued arrest warrants for Putin and Maria Aleseyevna Lvova-Belova, Russia’s Commissioner for Children’s Rights, given their involvement in the forced deportation and relocation of Ukrainian children. Given the latest revelations made by Shautou, Ukrainian Minister of Foreign Affairs Dmytro Kuleba argued that the ICC should issues arrest warrants to Belarusians complicit in Russia’s war. Members of the European Parliament echoed Kuleba’s statement. It remains to be seen how the ICC will proceed.
Finally, outside of the involvement above, there is a renewed concern that Belarusian soldiers may join Russia’s fight. These opinions gained traction after the short-lived Wagner coup. Following a revolt by Yevgeny Prigozhin, the Russian government ruled that the Wagner leader and his forces would be exiled to Belarus. Since these developments, Wagner forces have been conducting training exercises with Belarusian troops loyal to Lukashenka.
According to a Business Insider report, Lukashenka’s government has offered to host Wagner fighters. As of mid-July, Wagner has been engaged in “company-level training,” something that has not been previously observed. According to military experts, these activities are notable.
Recent events, however, have now made international observers curious about Belarus’s relationship with Wagner. According to a report by the Daily Express, Lukashenka recently “kicked out members of the Wagner Group out of Belarus.” It is believed that the Belarusian leader would not cover Wagner’s expenses, and as a result, many members of the mercenary force have been sent back to Russia. Ukrainian officials are keeping a watchful eye on their northern border. It remains to be seen what will occur from these developments.
In the meantime, while the international community has done well to sanction Russia and punish it for its war, the globe must also apply similar punishments to Belarus. Lukashenka and his government are equally as guilty as Putin and his regime for the war in Ukraine. The European Union recently took an important step, sanctioning several Belarusian officials, but more can be done to punish Belarus.
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First, the international community should limit Belarus’s involvement in SWIFT. To date, several Russian banks have been cut off from the global banking system, which has hurt the Russian economy. Western states should also seize the assets of Belarusian oligarchs and government officials, which can be used to help rebuild Ukraine.
Second, Belarus should be expelled from international organizations and sporting competitions. The United Nations Human Rights Council and the Union of European Football Associations have already suspended Russia. These organizations, among others, should apply similar punishments to Belarus. It would hinder Belarus’s international publicity, and it would hurt Belarus’s economy. This would force Lukashenka and his government to think twice about their involvement in the war.
As the Russian invasion of Ukraine approaches its nineteenth month, the Belarusian government has fought hard to try and convince the globe that it is not complicit in Russia’s war. But as the war continues, and as documentation becomes more regularly available, it has become very apparent that Lukashenka has succumbed to Putin’s bidding. Russia has also received numerous punishments for its actions, and this has weakened the Russian economy. It is time for Belarus to face a similar fate.