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Thursday, September 24th, 2020

On Eve Of Pompeo Visit, A Shakeup In Belarus’s Military And Snap Drills What Gives?

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by January 31, 2020 General

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Belarus’s longtime ruler ordered a major shake up of the country’s military and security command on January 20, installing a new defense minister, a new general staff chief, and a new head of the Security Council

A few days later, President Alyaksandr Lukashenka ripped into the country’s eastern neighbor, whose oil exports are a major part of Belarus’ creaky economy Russia had “screwed us,” he said, using an even more explicit phrase

On January 30, Belarus’s military went on alert after the new commanders ordered snap exercises to “check combat readiness” and “their readiness to fulfill their mission in a rapidly changing environment “

Oh, and the U S secretary of state arrives in Minsk on February 1 the highest level visit by a U S official since John Bolton, then the White House national security adviser, traveled there five months ago

Something’s up in Belarus

“There is a general feeling that something is going on The situation is probably more serious on the whole than before,” said Arkady Moshes, a researcher and director of the Russia and European Program at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs “However, if you deconstruct all of these thingsnone of these things that [Lukashenka] is doing is unprecedented “

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka (file photo)

The authoritarian Lukashenka, who has held power for more than 25 years, has no visible rival and no apparent plans to step aside willingly: He will run for a new term this year and is almost certain to win given his control over the levers of authority He has been ostracized in the West for his government’s crackdowns on political protests, civil society groups, and independent media

He’s also managed to oversee the evolution of Belarus’s economy into an unusual hybrid, heavy on Soviet style central planning but allowing small scale entrepreneurship, particularly the IT sector in Minsk

But the economy is heavily reliant on agricultural exports to Russia, and, more importantly, cheap imports of oil from its eastern neighbor, which Belarusian refineries then process and resell at a significant markup to European markets

Push For Integration

For years, Moscow has pushed Minsk to integrate more closely with Russia, fleshing out a Union State that exists largely on paper Lukashenka has showed little enthusiasm, mainly because of expectations he would lose his job, or worse His wariness increased after 2014, when Russia seized Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula

Last year, the Kremlin signaled a new push for integration, and in December, Lukashenka and Russian President Vladimir Putin met in St Petersburg to sign documents to that effect

Copyright (c) 2015 RFE/RL, Inc Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

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