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HomeNewsMint Explainer: Why Belarus holds a key position for Russia?

Mint Explainer: Why Belarus holds a key position for Russia?

Amid the prolonged war between Russia and Ukraine, the former has decided to station tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus. Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday announced that the stationing of nuclear weapons in Belarus would not violate nuclear non-proliferation agreements.

Putin took the decision after discussing it with Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko who had long raised the issue of stationing tactical nuclear weapons in his country. Putin said, “There is nothing unusual..The US has been doing this for decades. They have long deployed their tactical nuclear weapons on the territory of their allied countries”.

According to the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, there are about 100 US nuclear weapons, stored in Europe across six bases in five countries. But they are under the control of the US.

Putin added that Moscow will complete the construction of a storage facility for tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus by 1 July.

Why Belarus holds a key position for Russia?

Belarus is a landlocked country, bordered by Russia to the east and northeast, Ukraine to the south, Poland to the west, and Lithuania and Latvia to the northwest. While Belarus’s neighbouring countries are part of NATO and EU group, and it has remained tightly under Russia’s influence.

Belarus was part of the Soviet Union and became independent in 1991 after the collapse of the USSR. Since then, the country with a population of around 9.2 million has maintained close economic and political ties with Russia.

The Belarusian regime, headed by President Lukashenko, has backed the invasion of Ukraine. Belarus helped Russia launch its initial invasion of Ukraine last February, allowing the Kremlin’s troops to enter the country through the 1,000-kilometer (621-mile) Ukrainian-Belarusian border to the north of Kyiv.

Why is Belarus aiding Russia amid the war with Ukraine?

For decades, Lukashenko had played Belarus as something of a neutral state, shifting his overtures from Russia to West and back as his needs suited. In power since 1994, Lukashenko has also moved to suppress his political opposition and pro-democracy activists.

But a key turning point came in 2020 after Lukashenko declared victory in a disputed presidential election.

Lukashenko’s claim of a landslide victory–80% for Lukashenko versus 10% for his popular opponent, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya –was instantly disputed, both by the opposition and by the US and its European allies.

Subsequently,  protests erupted on an unprecedented scale in the tiny country.  Facing the biggest popular challenge in his 26 years of power, Lukashenko turned to President Putin for help. And Putin delivered, announcing that the Russian military stood ready to intervene “if necessary.”

An emboldened Lukashenko embarked on a vicious crackdown, with mass arrests and torture of detainees.  As a result, the current stand of Belarus on the Russia-Ukraine war can be that Lukashenko is returning the favour to Putin. 

US’s takes on Belarus for supporting Russia

Yesterday, the US imposed fresh sanctions on seven Belarusian elections officials, two state-owned automotive manufacturers, and President Alexander Lukashenko‘s aircraft.

Lukashenko accused the opposition presidential candidate, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, of plotting to overthrow the government.

This month, a Belarusian court sentenced Tsikhanouskaya, now living in exile, to 15 years in prison.

Lukashenko’s aircraft, a Boeing 737 that he uses for international travel, was also designated for sanctions, which blocks its use in the US.

BelAZ, one of the largest manufacturers of large trucks and dump trucks in the world, and the automotive manufacturer MAZ were also sanctioned.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement that the US “will continue to impose costs on the regime and those who support it for their repression of the people of Belarus” and for the Belarusian government’s support for Russia’s war.

The State Department also imposed visa restrictions on 14 additional people involved in “policies to threaten and intimidate the Belarusian people.”

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