Abandon ship: This war has "dragged on" too long and needs to end, says top Putin ally

Abandon ship: This war has "dragged on" too long and needs to end, says top Putin ally

Professor of strategy Phillips O’Brien calls this interview the best sign yet that Russia’s invasion is imploding.

Alexander Lukashenko is the dictator of Belarus but probably wouldn’t be in power today if not for Putin’s help. He “won” what was almost certainly a rigged election in 2020; when protests erupted, his good friend Vladimir helped suppress them. Lukashenko has owed Putin ever since and has paid him back by allowing Russia to use Belarus as a staging ground for its war on Ukraine. Russian troops entered northern Ukraine by crossing over from Belarus, then retreated into Belarus once the campaign around Kiev went bust. Russian soldiers have been treated in Belarusian hospitals and Belarusian roads are helping them move eastward towards the Donbas for the fight there.

The war was supposed to be easy peasy for Lukashenko. He’d let Russia build up its forces on his turf, then they’d go into Ukraine and crush Zelensky’s forces, and the whole matter would be over and done with before any Belarusians could think to complain.

As it is, he’s now a man on a highwire amid gale-force winds. If the war wears on, or especially if it expands, Putin will demand help from Belarus in the form of troops. Lukashenko has resisted sending his army into Ukraine so far, no doubt knowing how things would go for them there and what that would mean for unrest at home. (Belarusian railway workers helped slow Russia’s advance in Ukraine by sabotaging rail lines.) If new protests were to break out in Belarus, Putin wouldn’t have the manpower to assist this time. So Lukashenko is stuck, forced to choose between pissing off his patron in Moscow by staying out of the war and pissing off a Belarusian public that already resents him by getting in.

His only way off the highwire without taking the fast way down is for the war to end. Soon.

Is there any country at this point besides Russia that’s eager for this conflict to continue? Don’t say “China.” Xi Jinping can’t be happy that he hitched his wagon to Moscow in a “no limits” alliance three weeks before Putin launched a war that’s relegated the country to the status of a second-tier power.

Lukashenko is praying that his own alliance with Moscow doesn’t become a “no limits” arrangement. But his political position is getting more precarious:

The war has reenergized the Belarusian pro-democracy forces who were driven into exile following the violent crackdown in 2020. “It’s important for us, for democratic forces, for civil society, to be strong and healthy at the moment when it will be evident that we can uprise again,” Tsikhanouskaya said. She added that members of her team are routinely in Kyiv, where they plan to open an office to support Belarusians in Ukraine and facilitate ties with the Ukrainian government…

The war has also hardened the opposition’s stance on Russia. Prior to the war, Tsikhanouskaya tread a careful line, cognizant of Moscow’s influence and the fact that many Belarusians still had warm attitudes to their eastern neighbor. “We didn’t want to participate in these geopolitical games. It was our internal fight against Lukashenko,” she said. “But now when we see that Russian troops occupied Belarusian territory as well, our fight became geopolitical as well, and we are fighting not only against Lukashenko but against the invasion of the Kremlin.”

Reportedly there are hundreds of Belarusians inside Ukraine, volunteering for Zelensky’s forces. If Lukashenko were in a position to pivot towards the west, this might be the moment where it happens. But he isn’t. The deal he made in 2020 to save his presidency was a deal with the devil. In fact, as you saw in the clip, he’s still reading from the Kremlin’s script, blaming Ukraine for having “provoked” Russia and dismissing Zelensky as little more than a puppet of the United States in other comments.

Among the international figures who agree with him that Russia isn’t chiefly to blame for its own invasion: Uh … the Pope?

Pope Francis appeared to partly blame the West for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in an interview published this week, suggesting that the “barking of NATO at Russia’s door” may have forced Putin’s hand.

“An anger that I don’t know if you can say was provoked, but maybe facilitated,” the Pope told the Italian Corriere della Sera newspaper.

Hoo boy. I guess I’m just a John Paul II guy in a Francis world. Let the next pope be another Pole, please.

I’ll leave you with this guy, who also shares some opinions with Lukashenko.

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John Sexton 8:40 PM on September 21, 2023