What Do Belarusians Think About the War?

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 19 Issue: 39

Belarus' President Alexander Lukashenka (Source: Maxim Guchek)

Belarus’s President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and his analysts supporting and protesting the war (the latter are mainly outside Belarus) contribute to our nuanced understanding of the situation. Thus, on March 15, speaking at a meeting with Belarusian national security officials, Lukashenka both denied and confirmed Belarus’s participation in the war within one minute. “We will not get involved in this operation that Russia is conducting in Ukraine,” declared Lukashenka, implying the non-involvement of Belarusian troops. “There is no necessity whatsoever of doing that. What could we possibly add to Russia’s efforts! They have enough manpower and weaponry.” “But,” Lukashenka uttered immediately after that, “we do participate in that operation, which is what I told you many times”—this time he meant “preventing potential backstabbing of Russian forces” that “we” cannot tolerate.

Lukashenka also claimed that two days before this meeting, the Belarusian air defense intercepted two Tochka-U missiles launched from Ukraine across the Pripyat River (YouTube, March 15), the same kind of missile that hit Donetsk, killing twenty people at about the same time (Lenta.ru, March 14).

Participating in the war ensures economic benefits from Russia. Non-participating in the war reflects the mood of ordinary Belarusians, to whom Lukashenka has always paid attention. According to the most recent Chatham House online survey, only three percent of urban Belarusians would like to fight in that war, while the attitudes toward the war are evenly divided between those in favor and those against it (Gazeta.by, March 16). As usually, a highly imperfect online poll may only seem appropriate to quote in the absence of any alternative whatsoever that might offer more accuracy. Commenting on Lukashenka’s controversial statements, Yury Drakakhrust of Radio Liberty suggested that he was trying to walk between the raindrops.

According to yet another opponent of the war, former chargé d’affaires of Belarus in Switzerland, Pavel Matsukevich, the ongoing Russia-Ukraine negotiations and the likely efforts of the West will result in a new division of spheres of influence in Europe. “It would be highly desirable,” writes Matsukevich, “to include not only Ukraine but Belarus as well, on the same terms of neutral status and demilitarization—withdrawal of Russian troops and weapons while maintaining their own armies. This may be an act or declaration of international recognition and guarantees from key countries (the US, Russia, the EU, China, Turkey and others) of the neutrality, security and non-nuclear status of Ukraine and Belarus. A la the Budapest Memorandum, part two.”

For that outcome to materialize, the foreign ministry of Belarus needs to take the lead, says Matsukevich. But such an initiative has not been launched yet, in contrast to the Minsk-based High-Tech Center’s proposals that the government reportedly collected from resident companies that have not fled Belarus yet. The recommendations, which were relayed to the very helm of power in Minsk, suggest policies for addressing the radical change in business conditions in order to save the companies (NewBelarus, March 18). In his turn, independent analyst Artyom Shraibman pins hope on Belarus avoiding institutionalization of its ties with Russia, whose downward trajectory appears inescapable. Shraibman points to such ties as new Russian military bases on Belarusian soil based on long-term agreements, single currency, sale of major enterprises and others (Shraibman, March 19).

On March 17, Lukashenka gave a 90-minute interview to the Japanese TBS TV channel, repeating the main points of Russian propaganda related to the war in Ukraine. According to the Belarusian leader, his colleague Vladimir Putin is in such excellent shape, mentally and physically, that “he will catch a cold at our funerals.” Lukashenko said that Putin’s 15-point project of a treaty between Russia and Ukraine, now subject to bilateral negotiations, is entirely acceptable. However, if Volodymyr Zelenskyy thinks otherwise, he will have to sign Ukraine’s capitulation, as there is no doubt that Russia will win the war—now is the best opportunity to avoid that humiliation, a chance that will not present itself again, the Belarusian leader continued. Unfortunately, Zelenskyy is not in charge; the US is, therefore, a strong signal from Washington to Zelenskyy might stop the war anytime, Lukashenka claimed. This signal has not arrived yet because the ongoing war is the outcome of America’s interference and it is to America’s benefit, he concluded (YouTube, March 19).

The last point reverberates in the accounts of all Belarusian analysts supporting Russia’s war against Ukraine. Some of them, like Yury Shevtsov, meticulously monitor the scene of military operations and suggest that despite the slowdown, it is proceeding as planned. Unlike Lukashenka, Shevtsov believes that the most opportune moment to sign a truce agreement on Russian conditions will be in May when two events are likely to coincide. First, he expects that the encirclement will lead to the destruction of the large Donetsk grouping of the Ukrainian army (it numbered 76,000 service members in early February); secondly, Shevtsov believes the EU will cut back on accepting war refugees from Ukraine by May. If even that moment is missed, then the humanitarian catastrophe will reach humongous proportions (Shevtsov, March 18).

However, critiques emanate from supporters of the war as well. Thus, Piotr Petrovsky, a philosopher and a staunch Lukashenka loyalist, thinks that combining “denazification” and “demilitarization” of Ukraine with its neutral status does not make sense and neither does the preservation of Ukraine’s current administration. To Petrovsky, this would be tantamount to asking the German government and the NSDAP to conduct denazification on their own back in 1945 (Eurasia-Sever.by, March 17; Petrovsky/Facebook, March 17).

The words of Maria Stepanova, an esteemed Russian poet, come to mind. “The word “Nazi” is one of the most frequently used in the political language of the Russian state… The word still horrifies us, and in our world, there are certainly candidates for its application. But propagandists use the word like the black spot in Treasure Island, sticking it wherever it suits them. If you call your opponent a Nazi, that explains and justifies all and any means” (Financial Times, March 18). The war continues and voices from behind what increasingly look like the second edition of the iron curtain continue to provide food for thought.