Protests in Belarus have captured media imagination ahead of 9 August elections. However, little attention has been paid to what comes next or to the potentially serious consequences for European security. In 2017, the ELN warned that a political crisis in Belarus was one of the most likely triggers of a NATO-Russia confrontation. Today’s protests take place in the context of worsening tension between NATO and Russia, and the build-up of both NATO and Russia military forces around Belarus’s borders. As we head into the country’s most turbulent elections in decades there is an urgent need for a deeper and more nuanced understanding of the country’s poorly understood role in European security dynamics.
This policy brief, by ELN Policy Fellow Ben Challis, highlights the risks, urges policymakers to pay greater attention to them, and calls on Russia and the West to avoid a damaging competition for influence in Belarus. It provides a set of scenarios which policymakers may wish to use as a tool to develop institutional networks, to consider risks and to prepare for the kinds of situation they may face. The report recommends that:
- Policymakers invest now in the institutional networks, contextual understanding and strategic planning required to respond to future developments in Belarus based on a fuller and more heuristic understanding of interests and regional security dynamics.
- Recognise the mutual benefits of Belarusian security guarantees and take steps to protect them.
- Adopt a politically sensitive and human security centred approach to economic relations with Belarus.
- Take steps now which reduce the risk of a confrontation in any crisis, and which enhance predictability and transparency in and around the Suwalki Gap.
The opinions articulated above represent the views of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the position of the European Leadership Network (ELN) or any of the ELN’s members. The ELN’s aim is to encourage debates that will help develop Europe’s capacity to address pressing foreign, defence, and security challenges.
Image: Belarusian President Aliaksandr Lukashenka attends the Victory Day parade in Moscow, June 2020; Wikimedia Commons