Russia and Belarus Ratchet Up Joint Military Exercises
Russia and Belarus have recently extended joint military exercises.
According to a report by Radio Free Europe, these military exercises were slated to end on February 20. However, Belarus’ Defense Minister Viktor Khrenin recently announced this decision to extend the military exercises between the two countries. He cited the increase in military activity near the external borders” of Russia and Belarus and increased tensions in eastern Ukraine
NATO officials claim Russia has roughly 30,000 troops stationed in Belarus and could be potentially used to attack Ukraine. Russian leaders have denied such allegations.
On February 19, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Belarusian Alexander Lukashenko were in the Kremlin situation room observing the drills conducted by Russia’s nuclear forces. These recent drills showcased Russia’s newest line of cruise and hypersonic missiles.
These drills come on the heels of Russian military movements in the past few months, with a buildup of troops along Russia’s border with Ukraine. According to Western estimates, there are approximately 150,000 Russian troops stationed along the border.
In addition, Russia’s recent recognition of the Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic has added further fuel to the fire.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Belarus has traditionally pursued a multi-vector foreign policy where it tried to play the West off of Russia. Some experts speculate that Belarus’ unorthodox foreign policy was the result of Lukashenko’s failed attempt to position himself as leader of the Union State integration project between Russia and Belarus in the late 1990s.
Lukashenko felt slighted after Vladimir Putin took control of the Russian presidency and put the Union State integration measure on ice. However, things have changed in the last decade, especially during the 2020 presidential elections in Belarus. In this election, there was significant foreign interference and an election result that many Belarussians felt was illegitimate.
As a result, Lukashenko felt weakened by this entire process and has had to lean on Moscow for assistance over the past year. With Lukashenko recently mentioning how he will talk with “senior brother” Putin about how long the Belarussian leader should stay in office, international relations observer Artyom Lukin argued that this is a sign “of the Kremlin’s suzerainty over Belarus. https://kommersant.ru/doc/5226964#id217.”238”
The geopolitical environment on the world stage is dramatically changing. The US is no longer a unipolar actor and will now be facing heightened resistance from rising powers like Russia. National populists need to stress the importance of realism and restraint in a time when world affairs are becoming more unstable by the day.
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