Don’t Forget Belarus’ Involvement in Russia’s War in Ukraine
After almost six months of Russian military campaign against Ukraine, it remains crucial to hold Belarus accountable for its involvement.
August 12, 2022 – Mark Temnycky –
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The Russian invasion of Ukraine was catastrophic. According to the Ukrainian Defense Ministry, more than 40,000 Russian soldiers is dead. Thousands of pieces of Russian military equipment were destroyed and the war cost the Russians billions of dollars. These numbers, however, do not measure up to the pain and suffering experienced by Ukraine. According to reports, nearly 15 million Ukrainians have been displaced. Tens of thousands of Ukrainian civilians and soldiers perished and many towns and villages were destroyed. Despite this death and destruction, the Russian invasion continues with no apparent end in sight.
As the war enters its fifth month, the international community has supported Ukraine by sending financial, humanitarian, medical and defense aid. The Ukrainians used this equipment to repel Russian forces, and they are using it to rebuild Ukraine.
In addition to this assistance, the international community has put pressure on the Russian Federation by implementing various forms of sanctions. To date, several countries have imposed economic sanctions on Russia, several Russian banks have been removed from the SWIFT system, and many Russian oligarchs and politicians have had their assets frozen. Russia has also been expelled from various political and sports organizations. In addition, a number of countries have banned Russian commercial flights from entering their airspace and banned Russian ships from docking in their ports. Finally, more than a thousand companies have terminated or suspended their business activities in Russia.
As the international community continues to pressure Russia, it should not ignore Belarus. For the past five months, Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has allowed Russian President Vladimir Putin to use Belarus as a staging point for the Russian invasion. Russia has launched numerous airstrikes from Belarusian territory towards Ukraine. Putin may have been hoping these antics would force the Ukrainians to retaliate against Belarus, but Ukraine held its ground, instead focusing entirely on defending the country against Russia. Ukraine’s ability to successfully counter a full-scale Russian invasion has left Putin fatigued. As a result, the Russian president tried to coerce Lukashenko to send Belarusian troops to Ukraine. Despite Putin’s attempts, it came to nothing.
However, this does not mean that Belarus should not be punished. By presenting Putin with a base of operations for his illegal and unnecessary invasion of Ukraine, Lukashenko is guilty by association. Rather than condemning the war, the Belarusian president has repeatedly said he supports Russia’s actions in Ukraine. The international community should also impose strict sanctions on the Belarusian government for its involvement in the war and its decision to aid and abet Russia.
What could the West do to stop Belarus’ involvement in Russia’s war in Ukraine?
First, like Russia, the international community should cancel flight and travel operations with Belarusian organizations. Countries should also ban Belarusian commercial flights from entering their airspace. This would put a damper on Belarusian business and the Belarusian economy.
Second, the international community should remove Belarus from political and sports organizations. Belarusian athletes have already been banned from multi-sport competitions, but the sanctions should go further. For example, the Union of European Football Associations has ordered Belarusian football clubs and national teams to play their home matches at neutral venues outside the country. Instead, UEFA should implement a complete ban on Belarus from international football competitions. On the political scene, Belarus is expected to face similar measures. The Council of Europe suspended its relations with Belarus following the Russian invasion of Ukraine; other international bodies should follow suit.
Finally, the Belarusian government should be punished for supporting the Russian invasion. Like Russia, Belarusian banks should be cut off from SWIFT. It would hurt the Belarusian economy and force Lukashenka to rethink his support for Russia. In addition, the international community should continue to seize dirty money and assets from Belarusian oligarchs and government officials.
For months, Lukashenka has acted as if he were an intermediary between Russia and Ukraine in the continuation of the conflict. But the facts show the opposite – Lukashenka allowed Putin to continue his invasion and provided Russian troops with a place of refuge during the war. Lukashenka therefore also bears responsibility for Russian war crimes in Ukraine, and his regime should be held accountable. Applying tougher sanctions to the Belarusian government could force Lukashenko to rethink his support for Putin and change Belarus’ stance on the invasion. It might just give Ukraine the tilt it needs to win the war.
Marc Temnycky is an accredited freelance journalist covering Eastern Europe and a non-resident researcher at the Eurasia Center of the Atlantic Council. It can be found on Twitter @MTemnycky
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Alyaksandr Lukashenka, belarus, belarusian-russian relations, russian invasion of ukraine