If there was once speculation about how the Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko would act in the event of a major regional conflict, that is no longer the case. Belarusian territory is simply a staging area for the Russian army, and the extent of the threat from Belarus is determined by one factor alone: how keen the Kremlin is to go to war.
Lukashenko will have to provide Moscow with constant reminders of his loyalty, and following his recognition of Crimea, there are few options left for further rhetorical and symbolic concessions.
Few international issues generate more conflicting interpretations than the military cooperation between Belarus and Russia. Alternating between secretive deals and acrimonious disputes, this bumpy relationship regularly puzzles even close observers. At times, the two countries’ dealings are so confusing that the very same arrangements may be seen as either a major boost or a severe blow to Belarusian sovereignty, depending on the viewpoint of the beholder.
By acting as the driving force behind anti-Chinese initiatives, Lithuania hopes to focus U.S. attention on the region and procure guarantees that Washington will not scale back its presence in Eastern Europe and the Baltic states.
There are no signs that anyone in the EU is ready to bow to Lukashenko’s pressure. There’s no reason to do so. In the worst-case scenario, the EU will end up with a few thousand extra refugees: a drop in the ocean.
In the current situation, the main objective for the Kremlin is to maintain a controlled, pro-Russian transition of power in neighboring Belarus. If that means sacrificing closer integration, so be it.
The Moldovan crisis has demonstrated that Gazprom’s price will not be higher than the price set by the European hubs, which makes Gazprom a supplier like any other, and may be lower, which could make Gazprom a preferred supplier in countries with weaker economies.
The gas crisis could be a moment of truth for Moldova, which has an opportunity to take energy security more seriously, root out sectoral corruption, implement energy efficiency projects, build capacity to operate on the European gas market, and enhance cooperation with Ukraine. Achieving all this would not exclude Russia, but it would make energy a market issue, rather than a geopolitical one.
Putting too much pressure on Belarus right now could backfire and lead to unforeseen consequences. It would appear that Russia understands that, and is therefore playing the long game on integration.
Not so long ago, Minsk scored foreign policy points by positioning itself as a force for regional stability; a counterbalance to an aggressive Russia. Today, Moscow’s unwillingness to get embroiled in conflicts with NATO at the whim of its ally could be the only factor exercising any restraint on Lukashenko.