Staunton, Jan. 31 – Most analysts see Alyaksandr Lukashenka as playing a defensive game to survive politically as head of Belarus, Dmitry Galko says; but the Minsk dictator has never given up on his grander plans from the 1990s to become head of a pan-Slavic state and now expects to gain regardless of whether Putin wins or loses in Ukraine.
The Belarusian journalist who has been living in Ukraine since 2018 says that it is a mistake to view the relationship of Putin and Lukashenka only as a game in which the Russian leader is using a combination of carrots and sticks and the Belarusian one is parrying each offer to survive and gain more for himself (graniru.org/opinion/m.287163.html).
That is certainly part of what is going on given the power imbalance between Russia and Belarus, but it is far from the whole story. Lukashenka has a broader agenda which includes a vision of himself as the future head of a Slavic state, a vision that he promoted in the past and that at least some Russian authoritarians would support the realization of.
Long before Putin entered the Kremlin, Galko points out, “Lukashenka was a player in Russian politics.” And he saw himself in precisely that way: in 1996, for example, he described Belarus as “a stepping stone” to something large; and he was “the most popular politician” among those like Aleksandr Dugin who have seek power and revenge.
For the last two decades, Lukashenka has had to keep this dream more or less quiet, but the war in Ukraine has given him an opening, one he has been quick to seize upon. In July 202, for example, he openly stated that he has promoted the idea of a common Slavic state long before there was talk of a Russian world.
That position and the support it gives Lukashenka in Moscow helps to explain why he has been able to resist Putin and simultaneously get ever more resources out of him, Galko says. It also is why the Minsk leader has refused to join Russia in invading Ukraine.
That gives Lukashenka the opportunity to come out a winner regardless of what happens to Putin there. If Putin succeeds, Lukashenka can lead in the integration of Ukraine into the Slavic world; if the Russian leader doesn’t, Lukashenka doesn’t suffer anything and may even gain.
Like Yeltsin before him, Putin is going to do all he can to ensure that Lukashenka doesn’t achieve his goal of becoming the ruler in the Kremlin; but also like Yeltsin, he has to defer to Lukashenka for domestic as well as foreign policy reasons.
Assuming that what is going on in relations between Moscow and Minsk is all about pressure and resistance is to misunderstand the situation, Galko argues. Lukashenka has more cards to play than many assume; and in this case, Putin has fewer.