Berlin (CNSNews.com) – On the eve of the first anniversary of the war in Ukraine, Belarus cited the “accelerated military build up” on NATO’s eastern flank as justification for deeper economic and military cooperation with Russia.
“The accelerated military buildup of the eastern flank of NATO represents a serious threat to Belarus’ national security,” Belarusian Foreign Minister Sergei Aleinik on Wednesday. “Additional means and forces are being transferred to Poland, Lithuania and Latvia, not to mention the construction of walls along the Belarusian border.”
The state-owned BELTA news agency quoted him saying that these new realities, in addition to being a threat, offered Belarus a window of opportunity for “rethinking priorities.”
The comments came on a day when President Biden met in Warsaw with leaders of nine countries on NATO’s eastern flank and reiterated the U.S.’s “ironclad commitment” to the alliance’s article five mutual defense pledge.
Three of those countries, Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia, border Belarus, as does Ukraine.
On Tuesday, Belarus’ defense ministry alleged that a “significant grouping” of Ukrainian troops was present near the border and warned that it would respond to “provocations.”
When Russia invaded Ukraine a year ago, Belarus allowed the Kremlin to send troops through its territory. Kyiv and some of its European partners have voiced concerns in recent months that Belarus could shift from abetting the war to joining it. Such an eventuality would compel Ukraine to divert troops to defend its north while fighting Russia in the east and south.
Minsk this week signaled growing economic and military relations with Russia, with Prime Minister Roman Golovchenko calling for expansion of “industrial cooperation” and “joint ventures’ with Russia, and a senior military official, Valery Revenk, announcing that there would be a “considerable increase” in defense cooperation with Russia in 2023, including joint military exercises.
The latest Belarusian statements come amid reports by a group of international media outlets claiming that Moscow is planning to “absorb” its neighbor by 2030.
The outlets, including Yahoo News, Kyiv Independent, and Germany’s Süddeutsche Zeitung, obtained a copy of a 17-page document prepared for the Kremlin setting out proposals to infiltrate Belarus politically, economically and militarily, along with goals such as “joint counteraction to the expansion of NATO.”
According to the report, the document indicates that Russia wants to “fully russify” its neighbor by 2030, through a unified border policy a coordinated defense policy, and a single currency. It also proposes the controlling of the “information space,” to ensure the dominance of Russian over the Belarusian language and a common “interpretation of history,” among other things.
The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) said the reporting was consistent with its own research.
“While ISW is unable to confirm the existence or contents of this document, the reporters’ findings about the strategy document and its various lines of effort for Belarus’ phased military, political, economic, and cultural integration with Russia through the Union State are consistent with ISW’s long-term research,” it said.
“NATO must seriously plan for the likely future reality of a Russian-controlled Belarus,” ISW said. “Putin will very likely secure significant gains in restoring Russian suzerainty over Belarus regardless of the outcome of his invasion of Ukraine.”
Russia and Belarus are already part of a “Union State” agreement, formed in 1999, that sets a legal basis for bilateral cooperation. The strategy document, however, points to Belarus falling more fully under Russian leadership.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, who has presided over the former Soviet republic since 1994, maintains strong ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The country’s 2020 elections, whose official results handed Lukashenko 80 percent of the vote, were hotly protested, prompting a heavy-handed crackdown and thousands of arrests. The United States and European Union do not recognize the election results.
As Belarus pivots towards Russia, its relations with another neighbor, Poland, are undergoing new tensions.
Poland on Monday closed a checkpoint for freight trucks coming from Belarus, in response to Minsk’s earlier expulsion of a Polish border guard and two members of the Polish Consulate in the border city of Hrodna.
Poland had already closed another border checkpoint after Belarussian authorities sentenced ethnic Polish journalist Andrzey Poczubut, a critic of the Lukashenko regime, to eight years in prison.
The two closures leave just one checkpoint open for passenger cars, on the southern end of the border, although Poland’s Deputy Foreign Minister Pawel Jablonski said early this week the government was ready for a complete border closure.
Last summer Poland erected a 186 kilometer long fence along the border in a bid to deter migrants entering from Belarus. Since 2021 it has accused Minsk, backed by Russia, of sending migrants to cross into Poland – and thus the European Union – in a deliberate attempt to stoke tensions with the West.
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