Belarus in 2024: Russia’s Last Ally?

On 25 February 2024, Belarus held its first nationwide election since the 2020 Presidential election. Widely considered fraudulent, the 2020 re-election of Alexander Lukashenko was met with large-scale protests across Belarussian cities. Since August 2020, Lukashenko has embarked on a political crackdown, detaining 35,000 protestors and driving 500,000 Belarussians into exile. [source]

Moscow’s financial and security assistance has also pulled Minsk closer into Russia’s orbit, although Belarus avoided becoming directly involved in the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Lukashenko has nonetheless provided Russia with limited material support and serves as a sanctions loophole for Putin’s war machine. The next 12 months are therefore consequential for Belarus’ political process and Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. 

Key Judgement 1. It is unlikely that the 2024 parliamentary and local elections will spark large-scale political protests so long as the state continues harsh repression.

Key Judgement 2. It is highly unlikely that Belarus will become directly involved in the Russo-Ukrainian War in the next 12 months.

Key Judgement 3. It is likely that new European Union sanctions will reduce Belarus’ role as a sanctions loophole for Russia over the next 12 months.

KJ-1. It is unlikely that the 2024 parliamentary and local elections will spark large-scale political protests so long as the state continues harsh repression.

  1. Since 2020, Lukashenko has banned or dissolved all opposition. All four parties on the 2024 ballot support the Lukashenko regime. [source]
  2. In January 2024, the Belarussian KGB launched a series of raids against political opposition figures. As of March 2024, Belarus has 1,419 political prisoners detained. [source]
  3. On 6 February 2024, Lukashenko signed a decree that exempted the military from accountability when using firearms against civilians. [source]
  4. On 6 February 2024, Belarus and Russia agreed to unify their lists of “extremists” and cooperate on “counter-terror” operations. Russia has used anti-extremism laws primarily to target political opposition. [source]
  5. On 16 February 2024, Belarussian state TV broadcast propaganda showing state police training to detain citizens attempting to “sabotage” the 2024 elections. This included photographing ballot stations, and preventing the documentation of election fraud. [source]

KJ-2. It is highly unlikely that Belarus will become directly involved in the Russo-Ukrainian War in the next 12 months.

  1. On 12 March 2024, the Belarussian government announced the armed forces would undergo combat readiness checks. The Belarussian Armed Forces (BAF) however has very limited capabilities, numbering no more than 15,000 personnel. [source][source]
  2. Since February 2022, Belarus has been indirectly involved in the Russo-Ukrainian War acting as a staging area for the invasion, providing Russia with equipment and allowing artillery and missiles to be launched from its territory. [source]
  3. In 2022, only 5% of Belarussians were in favour of directly joining the Ukraine war. Therefore the mobilisation of Belarus risks stirring large-scale anti-Lukashenko demonstrations. [source]

KJ-3. It is likely that new European Union sanctions will reduce Belarus’ role as a sanctions loophole for Russia over the next 12 months.   

  1. Since 2022, Belarus has played a key role alongside Kazakhstan in enabling the transit of sanctioned Western goods into Russia. Belarus circumvents sanctions by purporting to provide land access for Kazakh-ordered Western high-tech military goods. [source]
  2. In 2022 and 2023, OCCPR estimated that €10 billion worth of sanctioned western goods passed through Belarussian warehouses bound for Russia. [source]
  3. On 23 February 2024, the EU announced that sanctions would be placed on third party nations supporting Russia’s war effort. This included nations such as Kazakhstan, China and India, despite concerns by member states over the legality of wider sanctions. [source]

We have high confidence in our assessment that the Lukashenko regime is unlikely to be threatened by political protests in the next 12 months. Our assessment is based on think tank reports, international media, local reporting and social media posting. Our assessment also rests on assumption that the war in Ukraine will continue beyond the next 12 months. However if our assumption proves to be incorrect we would expect to see less economic and social pressure on the regime. We considered the alternative that Belarus would become more directly involved but we ruled it out due to the fragility of Lukashenko’s regime and the BAF’s limited conventional capabilities.

Intel Cut-off Date: 15 March 2024

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