September 25, 2020

Russian forces are now in Belarus

Originally published in The Hill

The limited coverage of the crisis in Belarus sparked by the fraudulent election last month of President Alexander Lukashenko is missing the plot. European leaders, rightly angered by his violent suppression of peaceful protesters, are moving to pressure him to step down or negotiate with the opposition. Western reporting writes that he “appeals” to President Vladimir Putin “to help him restore order,” a sharp turn from his previous opposition to Russian involvement in his country.

But that is not really what happened. Putin has taken advantage of the problems facing Lukashenko to compel the Belarusian dictator to concede to his demands for integration with Russia. So 1,000 Russian airborne forces are already in Belarus conducting joint exercises with Belarusian forces. Putin and Lukashenko have promised unprecedented monthly exercises moving forward. The Russian permanent military presence in Belarus has started.

Lukashenko is a dictator. He stole the most recent election, he violently suppressed peaceful protests, and expelled or imprisoned opposition leaders. He fully deserves to be sanctioned and punished by the international community. The West should support the Belarusian people protesting for their rights and should demand transparent and monitored elections as the precondition for recognizing a legitimate government in Minsk. European and American actions and statements about Belarus are not wrong, but they are focused on only one of several important national security issues.

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