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Belarus

FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

The Rail War: How Belarusians Are Secretly Fighting Putin And Lukashenko

It remains unclear whether Belarus' strongman Alexander Lukashenko will join Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Yet as popular support for the war remains low, many in the country are actively fighting back by sabotaging the rail network.

On March 24, exactly one month after Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Vitaly Melnik set fire to trackside railway electrical cabinets, resulting in massive delays for 22 freight and 17 passenger trains. Earlier this month, a regional court in Belarus convicted Melnik, a 40-year-old man from Minsk, to 13 years in a maximum security colony.

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Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, Melnik had also "posted negative messages on the Internet about [Belarusian President] Alexander Lukashenko," announced the prosecutor.

On Dec. 27, three other Belarusian citizens were sentenced to prison for terms of 21 to 23 years. Their crime? Trying to prevent the transportation of military equipment to Ukraine during the early days of the Russian invasion.

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Putin In Belarus: Is Lukashenko Ready To Enter The Ukraine War?

Five days after Minsk's troops began amassing at the Belarus-Ukraine border, Russian President Vladimir Putin has arrived for an impromptu summit with Alexander Lukashenko. Belarus' strongman is increasingly seen as no longer having the option to say No to entering Putin's war against Ukraine.

This article has been updated on Dec. 19, 2022 at 4:40 p.m. CET with news developments

Russian President Vladimir Putin landed in Belarus on Monday, raising concerns that he had come to seal the country's leader Alexander Lukashenko's commitment to join the war against Ukraine.

International observers said the objective of Putin's visit — his first to the country since 2019 — is to push Belarus to send troops across the border into Ukraine, which he's so far avoided doing, despite allowing Russia to launch air and ground attacks from its territory.

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Ahead of his meeting with Putin, Lukashenko said that the country would decide for itself if it would go to war – but there were signs last week that he was preparing to help out. On Dec. 13, Belarusian troops began rapidly deploying to the Ukrainian border and the country’s defense ministry announced a “sudden inspection of combat readiness.”

The inspection finished just before Putin landed in Minsk on Monday, the Belarusian government said, as Russian media reported that troops stationed in Belarus had been ordered to start military exercises.

Over the past week, the Belaruski Gayun media has recorded increasing numbers of troops massing on the border with Ukraine.

Though such sudden exercises have occurred at other times since the beginning of the war, this time it comes amid an accumulation of signs that point to Lukashenko preparing to give final orders. Putin's visit Monday, which was announced less than 48 hours earlier, appears to confirm movement afoot.

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The Death Of Belarus' Foreign Minister Makei Tightens Kremlin Grip On Lukashenko

Whether or not the 64-year-old died of natural causes, the Kremlin is reinforced now in Minsk — leaving even less wiggle room for Belarus strongman Alexander Lukashenko.

-Analysis-

KYIVUkraine is closely following the events in Belarus, where the sudden death of Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei has sparked much discussion and speculation. Some are convinced that the 64-year-old was poisoned, perhaps targeted by the Kremlin to send a message to Belarus' strongman leader Alexander Lukashenko that he must increase his support for Moscow, including his readiness to enter the war against Ukraine.

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The 'Union State' — Inside Putin's Plans To Rebuild The USSR With A 1990s Treaty

What are Vladimir Putin's long-term goals in Ukraine? An overlooked treaty from the mid-1990s reveal that his ambitions go far beyond Ukraine to building a Russian Empire 2.0.

What does Vladimir Putin want?

One big clue is the “Union State”, a supranational organization consisting of Russia and Belarus that was founded in 1996. The union aimed to gradually create a single political, economic, military and cultural space.

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But Putin’s vision for the union doesn’t stop with Belarus. He has been quietly but diligently building the formations of the USSR 2.0 for decades.

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In The News
Cameron Manley, Sophia Constantino, Bertrand Hauger, Anne-Sophie Goninet and Jeff Israely

Six Hundred And Counting — Russia Losing Ground, Town By Town

Russia has begun evacuating pro-Moscow residents in the Kherson region after a Russian official in the partially occupied area said residents should leave for their own safety.

Ukraine’s armed forces have retaken more than 600 localities under Russian occupation in the past month, including 75 in the strategic Kherson region, Ukraine's Ministry for Reintegration of the Temporary Occupied Territories said.

The ministry said 502 towns and villages have been liberated in the northeast Kharkiv region, 43 in the Donetsk region and seven in the Luhansk region.

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"The area of liberated Ukrainian territories has increased significantly," the ministry said in a statement on its website.

In perhaps another show of its weakened hold on recently occupied territories, Russia has begun evacuating pro-Moscow residents in the Kherson region after a Russian official in the partially occupied area said residents should leave for their own safety.

Russia’s TASS news agency reported a first group of civilians from Kherson was expected to land in Russia’s Rostov region as soon as Friday, while more will move to Crimea.

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In The News
Cameron Manley, Sophia Constantino, Bertrand Hauger, Anne-Sophie Goninet and Jeff Israely

Putin Meets With Erdogan, Turkish Leader Emerges As Most Likely Peacemaker

“Our goal is to continue the momentum that has been achieved and bring an end to the bloodshed as soon as possible,” Erdogan said just before his meeting with Putin, referring to earlier agreements he helped seal.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin met Thursday in Astana, Kazakhstan, with the world holding out slim hope of a peace deal to halt the war in Ukraine.

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The two sides in the war currently appear too far apart to even begin negotiations, but Erdogan has maintained regular contact with both Moscow and Kyiv, establishing himself as an indispensable diplomatic resource for trying to halt the bloodshed in Ukraine and eventual help orchestrate a peace accord.

Speaking just before his encounter with Putin, Erdogan said Turkey’s aim is to orchestrate a ceasefire. “Our goal is to continue the momentum that has been achieved and bring an end to the bloodshed as soon as possible,” the Turkish leader said, referring to earlier agreements he helped seal.

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Russia
Anna Akage

The Next Big Move? What Would Happen If Belarus Enters War Against Ukraine

As the war in Donbas is bogged down, the most likely major new gambit in Vladimir Putin’s ambitions in Ukraine would be to get military support from his ally in Minsk, Belarusian strongman Alexander Lukashenko. How would that actually go down?

This article was updated Oct. 12 at 1:00 p.m EST

What will Lukashenko do? It’s a high-stakes corollary to the even higher stakes "what-will-Putin-do" question that has been weighing on the world since the beginning of the year.

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Few doubt that the role of Belarus and its leader Alexander Lukashenko — the 68-year-old strongman who's ruled Belarus since 1994 — is absolutely crucial to the outcome of the war in Ukraine. Will he invade? Will he bide his time? Will he do whatever Putin tells him to do?

Lukashenko's announcement Monday that he would deploy his troops alongside Russian forces near Ukraine shows that it is indeed increasingly likely that Belarus will enter the war.

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Geopolitics
*Igor Ilyash

Time's Up, Lukashenko: Belarus Prepares To Join The War Against Ukraine

Staunch Putin ally Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has recently tried to distance himself from an escalating war. But a series of events over the past month look set to drag him into Moscow's war with all the risks that entails for his small country.

This article was updated Oct. 10 at 2:30 p.m EST

-Analysis-

The announcement Monday by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko that he would deploy his troops alongside Russian forces near Ukraine is the clearest sign to date that Belarus is prepared to enter the war.

The 68-year-old strongman, who has ruled Belarus since 1994, cited the Saturday bombing of the Kerch bridge and the risk of a similar such attack on his country, for joining forces with Russia near the border.

"We have been preparing for this for decades. If necessary, we will respond," Lukashenko said.

Even before the bombing of Russia' bridge connecting its mainland to Crimea, the Kremlin's decision last month to hold pseudo-referendums in the occupied territories of Ukraine and the announcement of a partial mobilization had already already deprived Lukashenko of the opportunity to maintain the status quo.

It will no longer be possible to remain a passive participant in the Russian aggression: now it is necessary either to sharply take its distance from Russia or join a total war. And the news Monday of a joint operation with Moscow looks like Lukashenko's attempts to avoid joining the conflict have come to an end.

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Minsk's reaction last month to the news about the pseudo-referendums and mobilization indicated a continued desire to distance itself from the upcoming escalation.

On the day of announcement of the Russian mobilization, in Moscow there was a meeting between the Secretary of the Security Council of Belarus, Alexander Volfovich, and the Secretary of the Security Council of Russia, Nikolai Patrushev. The main topic, obviously, was the war and “tension” on the borders of both Belarus and Russia.

But no concrete decisions were announced, and any hints of a possible mobilization in Belarus were rejected at that time. “Mobilization is not about us, the people of Belarus and the country are already mobilized,” Volfovich assured.

Lukashenko himself spoke on this topic only on September 24, but also quite ambiguously. “There will be no mobilization. We are not going to mobilize," he said. "This is a lie.”

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In The News
Anna Akage, Meike Eijsberg, Shaun Lavelle, Jeff Israely and Bertrand Hauger

Russia Launches Revenge Strikes Against Civilian Targets In Kyiv And Across Ukraine

Russia has launched a barrage of missile strikes against Kyiv and other major cities, timing the attacks for maximum civilian toll to coincide with Monday morning rush hour.

The attacks are a direct response from Moscow to the explosion Saturday that severely damaged the bridge connecting Crimea to the Russian mainland. Three people reportedly died in that attack, which was a major victory for Ukraine, of symbolic and logistical importance, and an embarrassment for Russian President Vladimir Putin the day after his 70th birthday.

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Putin released a video address Monday morning, threatening more such strikes and referring to the Crimea bridge explosion as a “terrorist” attack.

There are initial reports Monday of dozens of casualties around Ukraine, including in the western city of Lviv and the country’s second biggest city, Kharkiv. Footage has been captured of debris and bodies in central Kyiv after missiles struck. There is also security footage that showed the moment a missile hit a pedestrian bridge in the Ukrainian capital.

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War
Anna Akage

Flashback In The USSR? How Former Soviet Republics Are Reacting To War in Ukraine

Vladimir Putin has been upfront about his desire to rebuild Russia’s influence in the region. Former Soviet states are watching developments in Ukraine closely, with many trying to ensure futures free of interference by Moscow.

For 69 years, the Kremlin was able to keep what were de facto separate nations within the Soviet orbit by the use of weapons, hunger and fear. Even after the collapse of the USSR, every Russian leader considered the former republics to be at least a zone of his influence.

Yet Vladimir Putin has revealed his true understanding of neighborliness, repeatedly stating that the collapse of the Soviet Union was a huge tragedy for Russia. And on this, one might agree, he is right.

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Under the Communist Party, each of the national republics also had their own government, albeit ultimately controlled by the Kremlin. Each of the republics, whether in Estonia, Georgia, Latvia, or Ukraine, had their own capital, culture, language and traditions. For each of the national republics, secession from the Soviet Union brought liberation and independence — an opportunity to build their own state. For every former member state, that is, except Russia.

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Geopolitics
Igor Ilyash

Unpacking Why Belarus Will Or Won't Join The War Against Ukraine

Analysts have closely followed whether Belarus, a loyal Kremlin ally, will invade its neighbor. But even though the Belarusian president toes the Kremlin line, he is unlikely to want to get in over his head in Ukraine.

-Analysis-

KYIV — For several months, Belarusian troops have been conducting regular training exercises, particularly in the regions bordering Ukraine. Combined with the specific statements by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, this raises logical fears about the direct involvement of the Belarusian army in the war.

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War
Niccolo' Zancan

From Lviv, Worrying New Signs That Belarus Is Set To Join The War

After Minsk recalled all its embassy staff from Ukraine over the weekend, additional reports now show evidence around the northwest territory that Alexander Lukashenko may be ready to join Putin in the assault on the southern neighbor.

LVIV — Here, distinguishing between what’s true and false is particularly difficult — and particularly important. The first question is to understand if something has been said to provoke a reaction.

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One local news sources in Lviv, Zaxid reported this weekend, citing Ukrainian military sources: “According to Ukrainian intelligence, in the next one or two days, Belarus will enter the war alongside Russia.”

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