Putin has his thumb on Belarus

Russia has all but swallowed up Belarus to wage a war against Ukraine. Missiles and bombers aimed at Ukraine are being launched from Belarus.



March 4, 2022 - 3:23 PM

Russian President Vladimir Putin (meets his Belarus'counterpart Alexander Lukashenko in Moscow on April 22, 2021. (Mikhail Klimentyev Sputnik/AFP/Getty Images/TNS)

For more than two decades, Alexander Lukashenko ping-ponged between Russia and the West, extracting what he could from both sides while ruling Belarus with autocratic fervor and more than a little eccentricity. On Feb. 1, 2020, then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo grinned as he shook Mr. Lukashenko’s hand in Minsk and promised closer relations with the United States. In May of that year, Mr. Pompeo announced the United States was shipping a tanker full of oil to Belarus in a gesture of goodwill.

The hopes were misplaced. In the months after meeting Mr. Pompeo, Mr. Lukashenko stole the August 2020 presidential election, forcing the actual winner, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, out of the country. Confronted by massive public demonstrations against the election fraud, Mr. Lukashenko responded with beatings and arrests.

Opposition supporters carry the former white-red-white flag of Belarus as they march during a rally to protest the country’s inauguration of Alexander Lukashenko in Minsk on September 27, 2020. Thousands of people were imprisoned for protesting Lukashenko’s reelection, which was deemed a fraud by outside election officials.(-/TUT.BY/AFP via Getty Images)

Now, Russia has all but swallowed up Belarus to wage a war against Ukraine. For many years, there has been periodic talk about merging Belarus, population 9.4 million, and Russia, both former Soviet republics. But it was mostly just talk until the protests broke out over the election. Mr. Lukashenko reached for a life raft from Russian President Vladimir Putin, who advised him how to suppress the demonstrations and provided aid.

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