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Speaking to The Associated Press on May 5, Lukashenka acknowledged that the invasion had run into unexpected problems and admitted that he had not anticipated the ten-week conflict “would drag on in this way. “. The Belarusian dictator stressed that while Russia continues to pretend that everything is going according to plan, he does not share this optimistic view. “I want to emphasize once again: I have the impression that this operation dragged on,” Lukashenko commented.
During his interview, Lukashenko repeatedly called for an end to the war in Ukraine while seeking to position Belarus as a broker rather than an active participant. “We categorically do not accept any war,” he said. “We did and are doing everything now so that there is no war.”
The Minsk strongman’s efforts to distance himself from the conflict are the latest indication that Putin’s invasion is in danger of unraveling.
Lukashenka is widely seen as a junior partner in Russia’s attack on Ukraine, having allowed his country to act as a staging post for Russian troops to invade northern Ukraine and as a platform for ongoing airstrikes against Ukrainian targets. However, he has so far refrained from ordering the Belarusian army to join the invasion despite heavy Russian pressure to do so.
This reluctance is partly due to the heavy losses suffered by Russian troops in the first weeks of the conflict as the advance on kyiv stalled. Belarusian hospitals and morgues were quickly overwhelmed with Russian casualties, leaving Lukashenka in no doubt as to the extent of Moscow’s difficulties. Putin’s invasion force was eventually forced to admit defeat in the Battle of kyiv and withdraw from northern Ukraine entirely.
The unpopularity of Putin’s war among the Belarusian public also helped persuade Lukashenko not to order his army into Ukraine. Polls have consistently indicated that a majority of Belarusians oppose their country’s role as a base for the Russian invasion and are strongly opposed to any direct involvement. This public opposition has helped fuel a campaign of sabotage targeting the Belarusian railway network in order to disrupt the transit of Russian troops and military equipment through Belarus to Ukraine.
Lukashenka’s thinly veiled criticism of Russia’s failing invasion marks a radical departure from his earlier support for the Kremlin’s aggression against Ukraine. As war approached, the Belarusian dictator frequently blamed the West for rising geopolitical tensions in the region while echoing Russian propaganda tropes championing “brotherhood” between Russia, Belarus and Russia. Ukraine. “We will bring Ukraine back into the bosom of our Slavdom. We will definitely do that,” he said in a Jan. 28 speech to the Belarusian parliament.
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This support reflected Lukashenka’s growing reliance on Russia following his heavy-handed response to a nationwide pro-democracy protest movement that sprung up in the wake of the August 2020 rigged Belarusian presidential election. The brutality of the crackdown in Belarus has turned Lukashenko into an international pariah and left him almost entirely dependent on the Kremlin for his political survival.
In exchange for support from the Minsk regime, Russia has sought to expand its economic, political and military presence in Belarus while advancing longstanding plans for the integration of the two countries into a “state of the ‘Union’ vaguely defined. This makes Lukashenka’s recent departure from the Kremlin scenario all the more significant, given that he risks losing power if Putin withdraws his support.
Opponents of authoritarian rule in Belarus have argued that Lukashenko’s comments are an attempt to avoid international responsibility for his participation in Putin’s war. Exiled Belarusian pro-democracy opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya tagged the interview “a desperate attempt to save face” and warned the public not to be fooled by the dictator. “He is a pathological liar, Putin’s accomplice, and he must be brought to justice for what is happening in Ukraine,” she tweeted.
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Regardless of Lukashenka’s personal motivations, his negative assessment of the war underscores Putin’s growing problems in Ukraine. While many in Moscow anticipated a swift and triumphant campaign, Russian troops now find themselves pitted against a highly motivated and highly trained force fighting on home soil and supplied by an array of the world’s major military powers. Kremlin officials still insist that the “special operation” is on timebut the current predicament of the Russian army was surely not part of the original plan.
This story was first published by the Atlantic Council. NV republishes with permission.
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