On December 19, 2022, Russian President Vladimir Putin paid a working visit to Belarus. Putin’s last visit to Belarus was three years ago. The outside world’s attention to Putin’s visit is mainly focused on two aspects: first, whether Russia will promote the “Russian-Belarusian integration” to take new steps; front. Russia and Belarus have denied both speculations. So, what signals did Putin release during this visit?
Belarus strengthens deep economic ties with Russia
According to media reports from Russia and Belarus, the results of the talks between the two sides are mainly reflected in two aspects: one is to promote economic integration, and the other is to accelerate the pace of military integration.
Belarus is the country with the highest dependence on Russia among the 11 countries in Eurasia, and its dependence on Russia is mainly reflected in the economy and military. The Belarusian economy has three characteristics: first, it is dominated by the state; second, it has a relatively single structure and is highly dependent on foreign countries; third, it is highly dependent on Russia’s market, capital, low-cost energy and transportation channels due to Western sanctions and blockades. As Belarus’ largest creditor, investor, trading partner and energy supplier, Russia gives Belarus a large amount of dividends every year, among which low-priced energy alone is worth two or three billion U.S. dollars.
Behind Russia’s generosity is Putin’s vision in 2002, that is, to completely merge Russia and Belarus or establish a “Russia-Belarus Union State” in accordance with the EU model. However, these proposals were rejected by Belarusian President Lukashenko. After Putin helped Lukashenko get out of the political crisis in 2020, the construction of the “Russian-Belarusian Union State” has been greatly accelerated. Russia provided Belarus with a loan of 1.5 billion U.S. dollars to relieve urgent needs. In November 2021, the two countries signed a decree covering the integration of 28 industries. According to the plan, by December 2023, the two sides will formulate 400 documents aimed at implementing the integration decree. During Putin’s visit to Belarus this time, Lukashenko said that 60% of the progress in the formulation and implementation of integration laws and documents has been completed.
After the Ukraine crisis broke out, Western countries imposed multiple rounds of sanctions on Russia and Belarus. Due to Russia’s strong economic resilience and effective anti-sanction measures, the degree of economic recession is not high. The Russian Ministry of Economic Development predicts that Russia’s gross domestic product (GDP) will shrink by 2.9% in 2022. The Belarusian economy is small in size and insufficient in resilience. The sanctions have severely impacted almost all economic sectors, major enterprises, export markets and transportation channels of major commodities, financing sources, and payment systems in Belarus. From January to October 2022, White’s GDP will drop by 4.7%. Among them, industrial output value decreased by 5.9%, investment in fixed assets decreased by 18.2%, and freight volume decreased by 25.3%.
In response to the sanctions, Belarus not only introduced economic support policies, but also focused on strengthening economic ties with friendly countries, especially deeply binding the Russian economy. After the meeting with Putin on December 19, 2022, Lukashenko pointed out that the Belarusian side is satisfied with the price of Russian natural gas supplied to Belarus in the next three years. Russia and Belarus also focused on strengthening cooperation in the fields of industry and agriculture, and established an import substitution working group. Russia provided Belarus with a loan of 105 billion rubles for Belarus to implement import substitution projects in the fields of mechanical engineering, machine tool manufacturing and electronic products. From January to October 2022, while the foreign trade volume of Belarus fell by 6%, the trade volume between Russia and Belarus increased by 10%. It is estimated that the annual bilateral trade volume will reach 40 billion US dollars, accounting for about half of the total foreign trade volume of Belarus. In the case of blocked logistics transportation through Lithuania, Poland and Ukraine, from January to September 2022, the volume of goods exported by Belarus via Russian ports has increased by 2.2 times. Russia’s timely “blood transfusion” helped White maintain the basic stability of the macro economy.
Strengthen the all-round alliance of the military system
The construction of the “Russia-Belarus Union State” has two meanings: one is to promote the integration of the economic, military, humanities and other fields, and to pursue the consistency of systems, laws and standards; Form a binding force and advance cooperation and alliance in parallel.
In terms of advancing military integration, Russia grasps the direction and takes the initiative, while Belarus makes choices according to needs. The deterioration of the external geopolitical and security environment after 2020 has narrowed Belarus’ diplomatic space, and Belarus has chosen to accept a series of proposals from Russia to advance the military alliance. Russia and Belarus signed the “Military Doctrine of the Union States”. Belarus agreed to extend Russia’s lease of the Baranovich missile attack warning system and the Veleika naval radio station in Belarus for 25 years. Russia is starting to build two air force and air defense combat training centers in Belarus. On February 27, 2022, a referendum was held in Belarus, and the amendment to the constitution was approved
. Neighboring countries, Belarus is very worried about the militarization of Eastern Europe and the continued tension in border areas. In response to security threats, Bai has taken a series of measures, including issuing conscription orders, establishing a southern combat command, and upgrading existing weapons and equipment. With the changes in the Russian-Ukrainian war situation, White’s military strategic value has become more prominent. The interaction between Russia and Belarus in the military field has become more frequent. On October 10, 2022, Belarus announced the establishment of the Russian-Belarusian Union Regional Joint Force. On December 3, it announced the signing of an agreement with Russia to jointly ensure regional security in the military field. In mid-October, Russia transferred 9,000 soldiers and a large amount of military equipment into Belarus. On December 19, Lukashenko pointed out that Russia provided Belarus with the S-400 air defense system and the “Iskander” tactical missile system, and helped Belarus modify military aircraft that can carry “special aviation ammunition”. Train crews of White military aircraft and help White astronauts go into space. Russia and Belarus will also hold joint military exercises and cooperate in the development of new military equipment.
Russia has no intention to open up a “Northern Front”
Lukashenko repeatedly emphasized that Belarus will not participate in Russia’s “special military operations” against Ukraine. The purpose of Belarus to promote military cooperation with Russia is to strengthen strategic deterrence and enhance its territorial defense capabilities. In fact, even if Russia forced White to join the war, White might not obey. Although it is an alliance with Russia, Belarus has never given up on pursuing policy independence. For example, it has never recognized that Crimea and the four eastern Ukraine belong to Russia.
Russia does not want to merge with White and force White to join the war. For Russia, the Russia-Belarus Union is the core of the CIS integration, and Belarus can play a coordinating and exemplary role within the framework of the CIS integration. Since the outbreak of the Ukraine crisis, Russia’s influence in the CIS region has declined rapidly. Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Armenia and other countries have shown unprecedented independence from Russia. Under such circumstances, the relatively pro-Russian Belarusian regime is crucial for Russia to maintain its influence in the CIS region. During the talks between Putin and Lukashenko, they also discussed the issue of cooperation under the framework of the Collective Security Treaty Organization.
In addition, the conditions for urging Bai to open up the “Northern Front” were not ripe. The size of the Belarusian army is limited, and the military, medical and engineering infrastructure is insufficient. Ukraine and NATO have long been prepared for Russia and Belarus to open up the “Northern Front”. The Ukrainian side’s air defense weapons have not been completely destroyed, and the Ukrainian side has also cut off the Ukrainian-Belarus border. traffic lanes and lay mines. In addition, even if the White government agrees to join the war, Russia will not be able to make up for its shortcomings in the fields of military technology, talents and weapons. Moreover, there are opposition voices in Belarus to the Russia-Belarus alliance and Russia’s “special military operations” in Ukraine, and the Lukashenko regime, which has experienced a political crisis, still needs to be consolidated. Internal turmoil. Therefore, at present, Russia maintains Belarus’ indirect participation in the Russia-Ukraine war, and focuses on using Belarus to provide it with training bases, military equipment, and logistical supplies. By strengthening Belarus’ military capabilities, it can contain some of Ukraine’s forces and respond to NATO threats.