The main intrigue of Vladimir Putin's visit to Minsk remains unresolved. On the eve of Putin's arrival in the capital of the Republic of Belarus, the version that the Russian President came to discuss with Lukashenko an attack on Kiev from the territory of Belarus or at least the activation of the Belarusian army was actively discussed.
All the more so the day before the President of the Russian Federation had held a meeting of the Security Council and worked all day long at the joint staff of the military grouping involved in the special military operation.
Number of Signs Indicated That Leaders are Satisfied With Talks
So, on the eve of his visit to Minsk, Vladimir Putin held a meeting with members of the Security Council via video link. Very little is known about the meeting, except that the President proposed to consider “the issues of security” and talk about “our interaction with our neighbors.” Also the day before, the Kremlin press service had spread a short statement saying that Vladimir Putin had spent the day at the headquarters of the troops involved in the special military operation in Ukraine, stressing that the President “heard a report on the progress of the special military operation, and also held a meeting and separate meetings with commanders.”
Understandably, in the light of these events, and given the fact that Belarus had provided its territory and military training grounds for the Russian military involved in the special military operation, everyone's attention was focused on Vladimir Putin's visit to Minsk. This is primarily due to the fact that the Western and Ukrainian media are actively discussing a future attack from Belarus on Kiev. Either Western politicians are better informed about the negotiations, or they just panic out of habit.
However, neither Vladimir Putin nor Alexander Lukashenko shed any light on this burning issue although they showed a number of signs indicating that they are satisfied with the results of the negotiations.
For example, a joint press conference on the results of the negotiations is usually interpreted as a good sign, evidence that the top officials managed to agree on important things. In contrast, as we remember, Vladimir Putin and Joe Biden did not hold a press conference or issue a joint statement after their meeting at Villa Grange on June 17, 2021. As we can see, events in Ukraine show that Washington and Moscow have not agreed.
In Minsk, Putin called the talks “useful and timely,” and thanked Lukashenko twice: at the beginning and at the end of his speech. In addition, the Russian leader twice invited his Belarusian counterpart to visit the Cosmonaut Training Center in the near future and to participate in the tenth Russia-Belarus forum in Ufa in June 2023.
From the words of the Russian President we can conclude that they, among other things, discussed the situation in Ukraine. Putin explicitly said that “the main issues of Russian-Belarusian relations ... in the field of security and defense were considered,” and then specified that “discussions took into account the situation in the world in general and in our region in particular.”
But the main emphasis of Putin's speech was made on integration projects. As, however, later, so did Lukashenko. Putin reported on a good pace of implementation of 28 joint integration programs (about 600, or more than 60% of nearly 1000 activities.) This included a harmonization of currency regulation, joint monetary policy, the unification of financial statements, the Interstate Customs Coordination Center and much more.
According to the Russian President, the trade turnover between Russia and Belorussia is also growing (+10.1% for 10 months of 2022), expressing hope that the mutual trade will exceed $40 billion by the end of the year.
Another important point is that Putin listed in detail the preferences that Russia provides to Belarus. These include an additional 105 billion rubles ($1.49 bln) to finance joint projects for import substitution in mechanical engineering, electronics, machine tools, etc., discounts on oil and gas, and other “price parameters in the energy sector.” Moreover, Putin stressed that the preferential oil and gas prices are “a serious measure to support the Belarusian economy.”
Putin also paid special attention to Russia's contribution to the nuclear power industry in Belarus, saying that the plan for next year is the completion of the second unit of the Belarusian nuclear power plant. Of course, an intrigue arose as to what the Kremlin would ask from Lukashenko for such preferences.
Our Armored Train on Reserve Line
Finishing with economy Putin touched upon military matters in general terms. The Russian President said that he and Lukashenko “discussed the formation of a common defense space and security of the Union State,” as well as cooperation within the CSTO, the more so since Belarus will become the next chair of this organization on January 1.
Putin also recalled that a joint Russian-Belarusian regional military grouping was in operation, a single air defense system was on alert, and the Russian and Belarusian militaries on the territory of Belarus were engaged in combat training.
Lukashenko also described the talks as “constructive and fruitful.” However, if Lukashenko is to be believed, the two presidents have placed special emphasis on the economy.
In addition, the President of Belarus said that the situation in the world is changing rapidly, and these changes “are truly momentous.”
“In fact, the future of the Belarusian and Russian peoples is being determined,” said Lukashenko. According to him, “the West's primitive stamping of economic sanctions against our countries is beginning to fade,” noting that the restriction “backfire on the initiators,” and feeling sorry for the ordinary Europeans and European businesses that suffer because of this policy. Lukashenko also attacked those who, in his words, “unleashed first an economic war against our countries and then a proxy war with Russia at the hands of Ukrainians,” but prudently did not say whom he meant.
Lukashenko also mentioned 28 integration programs and rejoiced that the Western politicians, who predicted an economic catastrophe for Russia and Belarus, were wrong. Vladimir Putin joined the conversation, saying that the year-end GDP decline in Russia will amount to only 2.9%. Lukashenko immediately reminded that the Western foes predicted a 20-25% fall in both countries and that as a result Belarus will lose just over 3% of the GDP.
Like Putin, Lukashenko touched on military cooperation, but did not shed any light on it. He only mentioned that they “discussed some important details of cooperation in the field of military security.” As we know from Lukashenko's words, it was on the day of Putin's visit that Russian S-400 and Iskander missile systems were put on combat duty in Belarus.
Grip of Anxiety Takes Hold
The result was that Putin and Lukashenko only fueled the intrigue as to how the Russian President's visit was connected with the special military operation in Ukraine. After all, the economic routine could have been discussed over the phone. Vladimir Putin himself said that Lukashenko would soon arrive in St. Petersburg for an informal summit of the CIS heads.
In the camp of the U.S. and its satellites, Putin's visit to Minsk was perceived with growing anxiety. “tin's mission to Minsk raises fears he will drag Belarus into Ukraine war,” says a headline in Britain's The Guardian.
Immediately after the end of the talks in Minsk, U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said that the United States was keeping a close eye on what military support Minsk could give Moscow. Price warned that if Lukashenko even more actively supported the Russian military operation, Washington would “take additional measures.”
“This is the reason why Lukashenko is now under sanctions,” said Price. However, this is not true, because when the U.S. first imposed sanctions against Belarus in 2006, no one was even thinking about the U.S. Air Defense Forces.
Lieutenant General of the Armed Forces Sergei Naev predicted before the visit of Vladimir Putin that the Russian President would persuade Lukashenko to involve the Belarusian army in the military operation in Ukraine. After the end of the visit, Naev saw an increase in the military threat from Belarus, specifying that the Russian military contingent “is now sufficient to create a threat to Ukraine and conduct tactical actions with limited objectives.”
“The level of military threat is gradually increasing, but we are also taking adequate measures. In addition, the General Staff of the AFU provides for a significant build-up of groupings in the event of a significant increase in forces and means from the opposite side,” the AFU lieutenant general said.
However, Andrey Demchenko, spokesman for the State Border Guard Service of Ukraine, promptly denied Naev's words. On the evening of December 20, Demchenko said that “we do not note at the moment ... any movement of manpower or military equipment near our border.”
Pavel Danilin, political analyst, YouTube program ‘Point of View’ (Moscow):
“It is possible that it [an attack on Kiev] is being prepared in late December - early January but it should be understood that the other side is also preparing its active actions for approximately the same time.”
Alexei Makarkin, first vice president of the Center for Political Technologies, Telegram channel Bunin & Co (Moscow):
“Alexander Lukashenko once again shows wonders of maneuvering, defending the regime he created. He does not want to become a Russian governor or a deputy ambassador, if only because it would mean the dismantling of his regime, based on a combination of charisma (weakened over time, but acceptable to the voters from small towns and villages - currently his main and perhaps only electorate) and power resources, coupled with financial support from Russia, which is constantly reproduced in the form of loans and gas preferences.
“For Russia, Lukashenko has no alternative. Moreover, after the start of the special military operation, the political situation has become rigidly polarized, and no diversification is possible for Russia in Belarus. Russia used to send positive signals to the Belarusian opposition from time to time, demonstrating that Lukashenko was not the only one in the world - now it is no longer possible.
“The opposition is firmly tied to the West, and Lukashenko is the only CSTO ally of Russia that publicly supports a special military operation. Maneuvering Lukashenko between Russia and the West after 2020 has become impossible as far as current policy is concerned. But the hope (psychological, rather than based on exact calculations) for the resumption of the situation in 2014, when Lukashenko as a mediator was in demand of all major players, remains. There is also the Chinese factor (Lukashenko is building relations not only with Moscow, but also with Beijing), although its influence should not be exaggerated – China's interests in this region are limited.”
Alexander Shpakovsky, political analyst (Minsk):
“As for Belarus' direct military support of the Russian special operation, we have never heard on the official level or even unofficially a request for Belarus to join. There have been no such requests from Moscow.
“The Constitution of Belarus provides for a defensive military doctrine. If an attack on Belarus by Ukraine follows, there will be a response.
“On the other hand, Belarus can help Russia resume offensive actions in the direction of Kiev. Now there is a regional grouping of the Union State forces deployed on the territory of Belarus, which includes part of the Russian and part of the Belarusian armies. For the time being, these units perform defensive tasks. Repeatedly the Belarusian side has stated at the level of experts that we do not guarantee that the Russian military command will not decide to resume offensive actions from the territory of Belarus in the direction of Kiev.
We don't give such guarantees to the Kiev regime. We have no legal or moral obligations. But there is no such information that Belarus will join the special operation of its own free will.”