Why does Belarus recognize Wagner as its leader while supporting Russia against Ukraine

Presidents Putin of Russia (R) and Lukashenko of Belarus (L)

Following the mercenary group Wagner's surrender, Russia claims that its leader Yevgeny Prigozhin has agreed to move to Belarus.

Additionally, Belarus has permitted Russian nuclear weapons to be placed on its soil and for Russian troops to invade Ukraine across its border.

Landlocked Belarus is a nation in eastern Europe that shares borders with both Russia and Ukraine.

Up until 1991, it was a republic within the former Soviet Union.

One of the poorest nations in Europe, Belarus has a population of nine million people. There are still many state-owned sectors of the economy.

Map of Belarus and neighbouring countries

It has previously been referred to as Europe's "last dictatorship.". Its government has come under harsh fire for limiting press freedoms and civil liberties.

Alexander Lukashenko, its president, has held that position since 1994.

The US, UK, and EU, however, no longer recognize Lukashenko as president because they think the elections were rigged.

Protests that lasted for months after the most recent presidential election in 2020 were brutally put down by security personnel.

Lukashenko received support from the Kremlin, which also offered a $1.15 billion emergency loan and support for its security forces.

Former British ambassador to Belarus and current participant in the International Institute for Strategic Studies, Dr. Nigel Gould-Davies, claims that Lukashenka "burned his bridges with the West" and "became isolated from his own people.". He became even more reliant on Russia as a result. "  .

Wagner leader Yevgeny Prigozhin
The leader of the Wagners, Yevgeny Prigozhin, is leaving for exile in Belarus.

In negotiations between Prigozhin and Russian President Vladimir Putin, Lukashenko is credited with serving as a middleman.

The Kremlin claims that after Prigozhin directly dealt with Lukashenko, his troops abandoned their march toward Moscow and he agreed to relocate to Belarus.

Allowing Prigozhin to move to Belarus, however, according to exiled leader of the Belarusian opposition Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, "adds another element of instability" to a nation that already has "enough criminals and bandits.".

Russia and Belarus holding joint military drills in February 2022
In February 2022, a few days before Russia's invasion on a large scale, Belarus and Russia conducted joint military exercises close to the Ukrainian border.

A security agreement allowing Russian troops to be stationed there was signed by Belarus in 2021.

According to Emily Ferris of the Royal United Services Institute think tank, "Putin must have applied significant pressure because Lukashenko had consistently refused to receive Russian forces before.".   .

Russian forces conducted joint military exercises in Belarus in January and February 2022, and up to 30,000 soldiers later invaded Ukraine from there.

To get to Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, it was the quickest route.

Map of invasion routes into northern Ukraine from Belarus and Russia

Belarus's status as a neutral and non-nuclear nation was changed following the invasion.

Then, it permitted Russian forces to use its military airfields, launch missiles from its territory, and utilize its road and rail infrastructure.

The UK, EU, US, and Canada all retaliated by imposing sanctions on Belarus as well as Russia.

According to Oleg Ignatov of the think tank the International Crisis Group, Lukashenko has succeeded in keeping Belarusian troops from engaging in combat in Ukraine.

He claims that "he is doing everything to avoid getting involved in the war.". "This might be the only remaining vestige of Lukashenko's legitimacy. " .

To deter anyone "thinking of inflicting a strategic defeat on us," President Putin declared in March that Russia would station tactical nuclear missiles in Belarus.

There had already been some Iskander missiles, which are capable of carrying nuclear warheads, according to him.

Iskander missile, 2015 file pic
One of the tactical nuclear weapons, according to Russia, is currently in Belarus is the Iskander.

Small nuclear warheads are part of tactical nuclear weapons, which are intended for use against particular targets on the battlefield.

Since 1994, when it agreed to remove them, Belarus had no nuclear weapons on its territory.

Speaking on Russian state television, Lukashenko claimed that he had not only allowed Russia to station nuclear weapons in Belarus but had also demanded their return.

Putin didn't need to move these weapons to Belarus in order to attack Ukraine, but Dr. Gould-Davies speculates that he may want to have more strike options against targets in the West.

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