It was perhaps an odd sight to see Belarus dictator Alyaksandr Lukashenka acting as a “mediator” between Russian dictator Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. Belarus is an allegedly “independent” state that is in fact tied to Russia like a parasite; its industrial and agricultural production is outdated and inefficient, and it is dependent on Russia for loans and heavily subsidized energy. In return, Belarus toes the Moscow line, and occasionally engages in military exercises in tandem with Russian forces. Belarus has been accused of preparing its own military to “assist” Putin in any move inside of the Ukraine.
Unlike the Ukraine, Belarus—a “country” about the size of the state of Kansas—never had a period where it was an autonomous or independent entity until recently, despite the fact it supposedly has an ethnicity and culture “distinct” from that of Russia; its population is 83 percent “Belarusian,” but less than a quarter speak the “native” language. The Kiev Rus, the Mongols, Lithuania, Poland and Russia all took their turn in ruling Belarusian territory until 1991. After World War II, large parts of Poland were “transferred” to Belarus along with the “repatriation” of millions of Polish citizens—although this was certainly already a fait accompli, since the Russians had joined the Nazis in invading and carving up Poland in 1939.
During the Soviet Union period, Belarus was heavily industrialized, but it came with a price. Five years before its “independence,” Belarus suffered the brunt of the devastating effects of Chernobyl nuclear power plant meltdown—due to a reactor “experiment” gone awry. Most of Belarus was dangerously contaminated, and even today its effects are still felt in birth defects and contaminated land.
Interestingly, when Mikhail Gorbachev began loosening Communist Party control, which allowed the separate “republics” to agitate for independence, Belarus seemed less enamored with the prospect than others. Nevertheless, the dissolution of the USSR and the power of the Communist Party made the “independence” of Belarus a foregone conclusion. Unlike the Ukraine and the Baltic states, Belarus—which had no experience with independence, let alone democratic government—was unable to “recast” itself and join the modern world.
Although a “constitution” was passed, and a legislature elected, Lukashenka—elected “president” in just the first of many “elections” in the country that were simply opportunities for widespread fraud and irregularity—dissolved the legislature, and he and his cronies crafted a new “constitution” which simply created a version of the Communist party, with Lukashenka its permanent party leader. Despite alleged term limits for the office of “president,” Lukashenka has retained the position for 20 years, mainly because of rigged “referendums” to allow him to win yet another rigged election—backed a legislature stocked with Lukashenka stooges, in which opponents of the regime have been either marginalized or banned from running. Belarus is thus a de facto dictatorship, perhaps more so than even Putin.
Belarus essentially has no relationship with the West, has adopted no free market policies, and half its population lives in poverty. Personal freedom is no more than what you would expect; according to the CIA World Fact Book, “Belarusian men, women, and children are found in forced labor in the construction industry and other sectors in Russia and Belarus; Belarusian men seeking work abroad are increasingly subjected to forced labor.”
This is what you have to be to be a “friend” of Russia.