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TOPIC: 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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Why Zelensky Will Not Promise Victory In 2023

Will 2023 be the year of victory? A negotiated settlement? The beginning of the new year was a time for speeches in Kyiv and Moscow aimed at inspiring the respective nations 10 months since Russia’s bloody invasion. Yet, for one good reason, certain words were not spoken.

-Analysis-

In Ukraine, New Year's was a sad and violent occasion: Kyiv, the capital, along with other cities, were subjected to drone attacks as the air-raid alarms barely stopped sounding in most parts of Ukraine throughout the would-be “holiday” weekend.

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Ukrainians couldn’t help noticing the contrast with other parts of the world, not just because people were ringing in the new year with celebrations, but more importantly because of the array of politicians, military experts and journalists making predictions for how the war will go in 2023.

The single question underlying all the others: Will the war in Ukraine end this year?

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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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Putin Goes To Belarus, Thai Warship Sinks, World Cup Front Page

👋 Dumêlang!*

Welcome to Monday, where Vladimir Putin heads to Belarus amid reports the neighboring country may join Russia’s war against Ukraine, 31 are missing as a Thai warship sinks during a storm, and we see how Argentina’s World Cup victory looks on the front page. Meanwhile, also in Argentina, Agencias Presentes profiles Ana Belén Kim, a rising star in Latin America's electronic music club scene — daughter of conservative Korean immigrants.

[*Northern Sotho, South Africa]

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In The News
Renate Mattar, Anne-Sophie Goninet and Hugo Perrin

Xi-Putin Alliance, Record UK Nurses Strikes, No More Cape For Cavill

👋 Aloha!*

Welcome to Thursday, where Chinese leader Xi Jinping is reportedly quietly strengthening ties with Russia, Peru declares a nationwide state of emergency and Henry Cavill will pass on the Superman mantle. Meanwhile, growing signs that it’s only a matter of time before Belarus joins Russia in its invasion of Ukraine.

[*Hawaiian]

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War
Oleksandr Demchenko

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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Geopolitics
Pavel Lysyansky*

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
Anna Akage, Meike Eijsberg and Sophia Constantino

Russia Unleashes 28 Kamikaze Drones On Kyiv, Young Family Among Dead

A total of 43 of the reported Iranian-made drones fell across the country.

Monday in Kyiv began much as it did one week again: with a new barrage of air attacks that coincided with the morning rush hour: at least three people have been killed and more than a dozen missing under the rubble after at least 28 kamikaze drones targeted the Ukrainian capital.

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Reuters reports from Kyiv that Ukrainian soldiers fired into the air trying to shoot down the drones. Authorities encouraged all residents to take shelter underground. Among the deaths reported was a young couple expecting their first child, reports an advisor to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

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Russia
Christoph B. Schiltz

Here Are Four Ways Putin Could Turn The Tide In Ukraine

Ukraine's recent successes on the battlefield have put pressure on Vladimir Putin, who has launched what appear to be desperate attacks on civilians and infrastructure in response. Experts warn that it is dangerous to believe that Russia is bound to fail.

-Analysis-

Russia's airstrikes on Ukraine have continued unabated throughout the week.

More than 40 cities have been hit by Russian missiles over a period of just 24 hours, the General Staff of the Ukrainian army announced Thursday. Heavy strikes occurred in the outskirts of Kyiv for several nights in a row. Sirens wailed, people ran in panic through the darkness.

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Thirty percent of the country's energy infrastructure has now been destroyed, according to Ukrainian figures — a dramatic development as rain and cold weather are just around the corner.

Ukraine needs to urgently "defend itself against the terrible Russian attacks on civilians," NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg told the alliance's defense ministers meeting in Brussels earlier this week. The message got through.

Germany and the U.S. made new commitments to supply air defense, and a total of 15 countries signed a declaration of intent for a "European Sky Shield" in Brussels on Thursday. The goal is to "close the gaps" in air defense, said Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht.

But to be clear, as brutal as they are, the Russian missile offensives are the direct result of Ukraine's huge military gains in recent weeks.

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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
Cameron Manley, Meike Eijsberg, and Emma Albright

Blinken Lands For Surprise Visit In Ukraine With $2 Billion Aid Package

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken made an unannounced trip to Ukraine on Thursday, his second visit to the country since the start of the war on February 24, annoucing that the U.S. intends to provide an additional $2 billion aid package to Ukraine and 18 other countries in and around the region.

This new aid package is in addition to the latest $675 million package to Ukraine, announced by U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. It will include rounds for HIMARS, as well as military vehicles, and other equipment.

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