Putin Visits Minsk: The Choice of Belarus

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Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Belarus on December 19, 2022, and his meeting with President of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko drew attention both in terms of timing and the course of the Ukrainian War.

As it is known, Belarus has had very close military and political relations with Russia beyond being a neighbour, the country is considered by the international media as Russia’s “closest ally.” However, the meetings of the two leaders have always been hosted by Moscow, especially after the Russian-Ukrainian War. On December 19, 2022, Putin’s visit to Minsk to meet with Lukashenko, contrary to the usual practice, brought the visit to the international agenda. Nitekim Analysts suggest that the purpose of this visit may be to formally involve Belarus in the Ukrainian war.[1]

Since the 2020 Protests, the President of Belarus has been criticized by Belarusians for his pro-Russian policies. In addition to these critics, Lukashenko’s support for the Moscow regime after the outbreak of the Russian-Ukrainian War resulted in the inclusion of Belarus in the sanctions imposed by the European Union (EU) and the United States (US) against Russia. Nevertheless, Lukashenko’s government has preferred exclusion from Euro-Atlantic politics to sever relations with Russia.

At the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, Belarus was expected to directly participate in the war due to the close relations between the two countries.[2] However, Belarus has not officially joined the war in Ukraine, even though the Belarusian President still supports Moscow. Undoubtedly, participation in the war would have very different consequences compared to military cooperation.

First of all, it is necessary to assess Belarus’ military power. According to the Global Fire Power index, which quantifies military power, Belarus’ military power in 2022 ranks 52nd among 142 countries. In the same index, Russia ranks 2nd and Ukraine 22nd.[3] From various perspectives, Belarus cannot contribute much militarily to Russia.

If Russia wants to involve Belarus in the war in Ukraine, its aim would be to encircle Ukraine from the north, i.e. to exploit Belarus’ geographical position. This is evidenced by the fact that Russia and Belarus have already surprisingly started military exercises on Belarus’ border with Ukraine. In addition, Belarus’ humanitarian power is also expected to be used in this scenario.

As expected, Lukashenko is well aware that if Belarus is dragged into the war, it will suffer. For this reason, the Belarusian leader often expresses his opposition to war and his desire for the war in Ukraine to end as soon as possible.[4] Belarus’s already small population would be further reduced if the country joined the war.

It is also known that Belarusians do not want to participate in the war. Therefore, such a decision by Belarus could lead to a public reaction far beyond the 2020 protests. In short, the Minsk government believes that involvement in the Ukrainian war would not be good for the country and for them.

On the other hand, if Belarus is involved in the war, it is clear that the country would not open fire against Ukraine alone. According to the US Institute for the Study of War (ISW), the Kremlin has tried to conceal Putin’s intention to pressure Lukashenko to make more concessions on integration with Russia.[5] Thus, although Lukashenko has managed to stay out of the war for ten months, there are questions about his ability to do so at Moscow’s insistence.

Following the Russian leader’s meeting with Lukashenko in Minsk, Ukraine’s response was not delayed. President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky addressed European leaders, particularly the UK, and demanded that these countries increase military aid to Ukraine. Ukraine has also repeatedly warned in recent days that Russian forces may be preparing a new offensive aimed at once again seizing Kyiv, just 85 miles from the Belarusian border, or at blocking the flow of Western weapons and Polish aid to Ukraine.”[6]

As a result, Putin’s visit to the Belarusian President in Minsk after three and a half years attracted attention. Political analysts have suggested that Putin’s visit was an attempt to change the attitude of Belarus, which has not been directly involved in the war in Ukraine since its outbreak. This would change the course of events for both Kyiv and Minsk. If Belarus joins the war, there could be uprisings in the country. On the other hand, a new front would open in Ukraine from the north. That is why Kyiv is calling on its European allies for additional assistance.

[1] Pjotr Sauer, “Putin’s Mission to Minsk Raises Fears He Will Drag Belarus into Ukraine War”, The Guardian,, (Date of Accession: 20.12.2022).

[2] Maria Yeryoma, “Does Belarus’ Military Have The Capacity to Attack Ukraine?”, The Kyiv Independent,, (Date of Accession: 20.12.2022).

[3] “2022 Belarus Military Strength”, GFP,, (Date of Accession: 20.12.2022).

[4] Artyom Shraibman, “Won’t Get Fooled Again: Is Lukashenko Trying to Distance Himself From Russia?”, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace,, (Date of Accession: 20.12.2022).

[5] “Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, December 19”, Institute for the Study of War,, (Date of Accession: 20.12.2022).

[6] Anatoly Kurmanaev vd., “Putin Visits Belarus, Stirring New Concern on Future of Ukraine War”, The New York Times,, (Date of Accession: 20.12.2022).

Sevinç İrem BALCI
Sevinç İrem Balcı, Orta Doğu Teknik Üniversitesi Uluslararası İlişkiler bölümü mezunudur. İyi derecede İngilizce bilen Balcı, aynı zamanda Rusça ve Yunanca öğrenmektedir. Başlıca çalışma alanları Balkanlar ve Avrupa'dır.