Complications in Belarus’s Relations With Armenia and Israel

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 21 Issue: 99


Executive Summary:

  • Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka recently made a series of public pronouncements that have provoked Armenia and Israel and placed Belarus in an even more precarious geopolitical position.
  • Lukashenka’s flippant comments in Azerbaijan, tense relationship with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, and series of anti-Semitic comments demonstrate how irresponsible official rhetoric can set off a breakdown in bilateral relations.
  • The row over Lukashenka’s comments presents a warning that careless public diplomacy and/or the misinterpretation of official comments or actions can contribute to the exacerbation of geopolitical tensions and the spilling over of conflicts.

Recent complications between Belarus and Armenia, on the one hand, and Israel, on the other, have put added pressure on the country’s geopolitical position. Official Minsk has to treasure what relations it still enjoys with Western countries in the face of stringent sanctions for its human rights violations and aiding Russia’s war against Ukraine. The recent breakdown in relations with Yerevan and Tel Aviv is troubling in this regard. Belarusian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s recent pronouncements demonstrate a degree of carelessness in Minsk’s public diplomacy. Considering that the issues with both Armenia and Israel are related to gratuitous and/or inconsiderate pronouncements from Lukashenka, the situation is illustrative of how irresponsible rhetoric may affect public impressions and could lead to reactive policymaking that exacerbates rather than quells simmering tensions.

On June 13, Armenia announced that it had recalled its ambassador to Minsk for consultations. Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan declared, “The leader of one of the Collective Security Treaty Organization [CSTO] countries states that he participated in the preparations for the [Second Karabakh War], encouraged, believed, and wished for Azerbaijan’s victory. And after that, I will go with the head of Belarus in the CSTO format to discuss something?” (Pozirk, June 13). Pashinyan was referring to comments made by Lukashenka during his recent state visit to Azerbaijan. The Belarusian leader, while visiting Karabakh, referred to his earlier discussions with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev about how Azerbaijani victory over Armenia was possible (Belsat, May 17). It took the Armenian premier almost a month to respond publicly to Lukashenka’s pronouncements (see EDM, May 30).

This is not the first time Belarusian-Armenian relations have been strained. Back in 2018, Belarusian Polonez multiple-launch rocket systems (MLRS) entered service with the Azerbaijani army. In 2020, Armenian media reported that Azerbaijan launched rockets from the Polonez MLRS at the capital of the separatist regime in Karabakh (Zerkalo, May 25). Furthermore, Lukashenka’s personal relations with West-leaning Pashinyan have been on the rocks for quite some time. For example, in October 2022, during a CSTO summit held over Zoom, Lukashenka yelled at his Armenian counterpart over his refusal to sign the summit’s final declaration (YouTube, October 29, 2022).

Minsk’s response to Pashinyan’s recent statement was notably blunt. The Belarusian Foreign Ministry’s press secretary stated, “If someone in Armenia decided to divert attention from internal problems by concocting an external enemy [out of Belarus], then this is a very short-sighted position” (, June 13). Lukashenka’s comments in Azerbaijan make it seem that Minsk no longer considers its relationship with Armenia a priority.

This does not seem to be the case with Israel. Tel Aviv maintains a visa-free travel regime with Minsk, and Belarus happens to be the homeland of three Israeli prime ministers and two presidents (Belpochta, October 17, 2013). On June 14, when addressing a corruption scandal involving his former assistant Igor Brylo, current inspector for the Vitebsk region and former minister of agriculture and food, Lukashenka said three dozen people had been implicated in the case. The Belarusian leader asserted that he is “not an anti-Semite, but more than half [of those listed] are Jews. This indicates that we have a special, privileged position, where they steal and do not think about their future. Everyone is the same before the law. Jews, Belarusians, Ukrainians, Russians, and Poles.” Lukashenka did not explain what connection, if any, exists between a person’s ethnicity and corruption (Zerkalo, June 14).

In Israel, Lukashenka’s pronouncement was interpreted as anti-Semitic. The Israeli Foreign Ministry noted that “the words of the President of Belarus are unacceptable, outrageous, and sound like outright anti-Semitic remarks.” Deputy Director General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for Eurasia and Western Balkans Yuval Fuks contacted the Belarusian ambassador to Israel to protest Lukashenka’s words (, June 16).

Belarusian opposition media outlets recalled other similar pronouncements by Lukashenka (Zerkalo, June 21). One frequently discussed excerpt from Lukashenka’s April 2015 address to the nation included a digression about Jews. Addressing Semyon Shapiro, head of Minsk Oblast, Lukashenka stated, “One of your men [i.e., a fellow Jew], [news portal owner Yury] Zisser, is behaving indecently. After all, a year ago, I asked you to take all Belarusian Jews under control. Even Pavel Yakubovich [then head of the major outlet Belarus Segodnya, who is also Jewish] did not resent that. Yet, Zisser has not been normalized. Please pay attention to that” (Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, June 29, 2025; see EDM, May 5, 2015). Back in 2007, Lukashenka compared Bobruisk, historically Belarus’s most Jewish town, to a pig farm because Jews reportedly mistreat the places they live in (Svoboda, October 19, 2007).

Notably, by the end of the 19th century, when Europe was home to 88 percent of Jews, the largest Jewish population lived within Russia’s Pale of Settlement (Independent, October 22, 2020). Located within the region, Belarus was likely home to the highest percentage of the Jewish population in the world, at 14.2 percent in 1897 (YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe, accessed July 1). Jews were the majority in many smaller Belarusian towns and quite numerous in larger ones. For example, in 1926, they made up 40.8 percent of the population of Minsk (WorldOrt, accessed June 30). The memory of coexistence between ethnic Belarusians and Jews is therefore massive.

The reasoning behind Lukashenka’s comments is unclear, as it is difficult to interpret them as anything but anti-Semitic. Several factors should be considered when analyzing Lukashenka’s statements. First and foremost, anti-Semitism has a long and tenacious history in Europe. In Belarus particularly, the relationship between Jewish people and ethnic Belarusians in the time of the Russian Empire was much less hostile than between Jewish people and other ethnicities in the region. This demonstrates a different, less negative historical relationship than seen in other parts of Europe. Second, Belarus and Belarusians have never been at the epicenter of the continent’s struggles with anti-Semitism. Moreover, there is an opinion in the expert community that “Belarusian nationalism is possibly the only one in Eastern Europe whose classic narrative does not include anti-Semitism” (Carnegie Endowment, May 20, 2020). This author’s late grandfather, a Jew and a native of Petrikov, Belarus, shared that opinion. Third, Lukashenka is possibly Europe’s folksiest national leader. His rhetoric has almost always reflected a closeness to the rural villages and small towns of Belarus, where anti-Semitic rhetoric is more prevalent. This background does not justify Lukashenka’s pronouncements but provides a deeper context of their underlying environment and undertones.

Overall, public perception and international reactions to Lukashenka’s bombastic statements can sometimes exacerbate an already grave situation, marked by actions that have pushed Belarus even closer to Russia. In today’s globalized world, where information and events are shared instantaneously, it can be easy to quickly judge a situation without the full context. Today’s tense geopolitical environments grapples with the fear of escalation in which misinterpretation of official comments or actions can contribute to the exacerbation of geopolitical tensions and the spilling over of conflicts.