Since the disintegration of Soviet Union in the 1990s, the post-soviet space has undergone through significant transformations across social, political and economic level. Soon after the independence, majority of the post-soviet states have abandoned Soviet communism and embraced western free market capitalism. Likewise, with the expansion of European Union eastwards, a large number of post-soviet republics in the Baltic, Balkans and Eastern Europe have willfully joined the European integration project. However, the EU’s eastward expansion has exacerbated the security concerns for Russia. Because in Russian geopolitical calculation, the EU’s eastward expansion will clear the way for NATO to encircle Russia.
On the face of rising security fears from NATO, Russia has declared few countries in the post-soviet space as its red line. Among the post-soviet States, the republic of Ukraine and the republic of Belarus have always been on Russia’s top security priority. Since the maiden uprising (color revolution) in Ukraine back in 2014, the republic of Belarus has only remained the Russianized state in the Post-Soviet space with closer diplomatic and security ties with Russia. Moreover, Minsk is the only military ally in the region, which is tied to Russia through five integration-point arrangements. Likewise, in terms of oil resources and economic assistance, Belarus is solely dependent on Russia.
On the contrary, two decades earlier, Russia and Belarus entered into a formal union treaty for deeper integration across political, social, economic, administrative and military sphere. In the recent years, the five-point integration treaty between the two countries became the popular content of debate and discussion in the western media. The western political commentators have called Russia-Belarus union treaty as Russia’s excuse to reassert its influence in the post-soviet space. Moreover, the fact cannot be denied that Belarus is a strategic country in the Baltic Sea region, which is of great military significance for both Russia and NATO. There are number of reasons why Belarus strategically matters to Russia.
First and Foremost, the unique geography of Belarus makes it a reliable route for the export of Russian oil and gas products. That is why in 2018, Russia has jovially suggested President Alexander Lukashenko, Belarus should accept Russian proposal of deeper integration in order to benefit from economic cooperation. Secondly, strategically Belarus hosts a corridor, an important chokepoint known as Smolensk gates that links Eastern Europe with Central Russia. Thirdly, the closer diplomatic and economic cooperation between Belarus and Russia is important for the Russian Eurasian integration project. Lastly, Russia wants to establish a permanent military base in Belarus in order to keep an eye on NATO activities in the Baltic Sea region.
As a matter of fact, the Russian military presence in Belarus in the form of ground troops and Air base will enable Russia to establish its existence in the Suwalki gap. In this respect, the strategic location of the Belarus in the Eastern Europe is geopolitically significant for Russia’s security interests in the region. In the recent months just before the controversial presidential elections, the political and diplomatic deadlock between Belarus and Russia was intensified due Russian blockade of periodic crude oil deliveries to Belarus. Very recently, a day earlier the Presidential elections Belarussian security forces have arrested thirty Russian mercenaries from the Wagner group—the news was not appreciated by Moscow.
On the contrary, this news was deemed as top headline by the western media outlets, which anticipated the possible Russian involvement in Belarusian presidential elections. Nonetheless, the elections were held under the harsh situation but on the Election Day the voting began as usual. The opposition candidate Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya called on his supporters to overthrow Alexander Lukashenko, the Belarusian strongman who is often referred as “Europe’s last dictator”. Consequently, the election results turned out to be exactly opposite, because on Monday the state agency Belta announced the victory of incumbent president Alexander Lukashenko with 80.23% of the Votes. According to state polls, the election turnout was 79% and hence, the victory of president Lukashenko was met with great surprise both at home and abroad.
Soon after the pronouncement of elections result, numerous western nations have conveyed their concern over the election results and precisely over the situation in Belarus. Despite election controversy, Russia and China congratulated President Lukashenko on the election victory and yearned for peaceful future cooperation. However, tens of thousands of the protestors have taken the streets in Minsk in support of opposition candidate by rejecting the elections results. Due to intensifying political situation in Belarus, United States and European Union urged Lukashenko not to use force against the protestors.
Due to intensification in political impasse; it seems that another proto-type maiden is appearing in Belarus, which might result in war between Russia and the West. Under the current pandemic, which has shattered the economic growth of major powers, the rising political mayhem in Belarus is not in the best interest of anyone. The country is already struggling with the economy and if the civil war broke out then the country might face the fate of Ukraine: ruined and divided. In sharp contrast, as reliable and historical ally, Russia will not abandon Belarus at any cost because for Russia—Belarus is its Jugular vein.