Mag de Wit-Russische leider Loekasjenko zijn land houden van Poetin?
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In a large-scale invasion, Belarus forms the Russian springboard on Ukraine's northern front. According to NATO, there are now 30,000 Russian soldiers, in addition to Russian warplanes, Iskander missiles that can carry a nuclear payload and anti-aircraft systems.
This is a defensive exercise, Russia and Belarus say, to resist the "threat" to Belarus' southern flank, read: Ukraine. That exercise surpasses all previous ones in scope, NATO says, and what are those two Russian bombers that can fire nuclear missiles doing there?
The exercise has been christened 'United determination'. Resolutely united: Belarus and Russia have been on paper for decades. Their file drawers are overflowing with treaties, whether or not they have been put into effect.
As early as 1999, they agreed in a Union treaty far-reaching integration, with a single currency, and common courts and parliaments. But Lukashenko, in power since 1994, has been slow to implement it. He was sentenced for this in 2019: from now on Belarus had to pay the full price for its Russian energy bill.
For a long time, Lukashenko managed to play Russia and the European Union off against each other: watch out, I'm about to switch to the other camp. But in 2020, when he rigged the election and mass protests erupted, Lukashenko turned hat in hand to the Kremlin. He received military aid, and $1.5 billion in loans, to compensate for Western sanctions for human rights violations.
Western sanctions have pushed Lukashenko even further into Putin's arms. Lithuania closed the border for the transit of potash, a raw material for fertilizer and an important export product of Belarus. From now on, exports must go through Russia. Dark clouds hang over the Belarusian state-owned company Belaruskali, which has had to fight against Russian competition and takeover attempts.
No wonder Lukashenko stands by when the Kremlin calls. Last month, Belarus delivered a unit to the Russian-led force to suppress uprisings in Kazakhstan. Lukashenko was full of praise for this rapid intervention. NATO should also take note of this, he said on Russian TV: "While they are still preparing to get their troops here, we can already be on the British Channel."