The Belarus factor in any possible Russian-Ukrainian war

One of the consequences of the near hysteria prevailing in the United States media and political class over a supposedly impending Russian invasion of Ukraine is that the readership of my website has increased many times over in the past several weeks as a confused public seeks expert opinions from those outside the hopelessly propagandistic, ideologically driven mainstream. Moreover, the specifically American part of that readership has run way ahead of the rest of the world, so that U.S. readers are now three or more times greater in number than the nearest ‘competitor,’ Canada, whereas the traditional ratio was 2:1. The other top numbers of visitors are also coming from English-speaking  countries, namely the U.K. and Australia.  The rest of the world means about 50 countries where internet visitors turn up daily in significantly smaller numbers, meaning an order of magnitude fewer. Those countries may be large, like China and India, or absolutely tiny like Fiji, Mali and Rwanda. Nonetheless, I remain impressed that the entire world has the interest and finds the time to search for nonconformist views on what Russia and the Collective West are saying and may soon be doing to one another.

With increasing ‘hits’ comes increasing numbers of comments, which on average represent 1% of the readership.  I am appreciative of all comments which take issue with the logic of my essays or which provide supplemental information which I may have missed. I take these visitors as a proxy for the Vox Populi and they help guide my further research and writing.

 I take special pleasure in the remarks left by publishers-authors of peer websites. .  One such case occurred a day ago when sent me a link to an online interview by the Russian state broadcaster Vesti FM dealing with Belarus, among other topics, that was posted on youtube :

The program, Solovyov LIVE, is a daytime show normally hosted by Vladimir Solovyov, the same presenter of late night political talk shows whom I frequently cite, though on the given day it was run by one of his assistants, a certain Golovanov.

What was remarkable in the given show was not the interviewee, the rather nondescript political scientist Mikheev, who is a frequent panelist on the evening talk show. Nor was it Golovanov himself. Rather it was the materials about Belarus that the production company prepared for the broadcast.

First, there was a video showing the Ukrainian spy drone that the Belarus military had brought down in the area of Brest, way inside their territory. Clearly the drone was operating in violation of all international rules. 

The Minsk authorities had, of course, issued a stern protest to Kiev about this clear but inexplicable provocation. Golovanov, for his part, asked why the Kiev regime could be so stupid as to totally spoil relations with Belarus considering how Minsk had been a convenient intermediary with Russia ever since the 2014 annexation of Crimea and Russian involvement in the civil war that broke out in Donbas.

The host and his interviewee then answered the question, saying that the spoiling of relations must have been instigated by the United States. Washington seems to have a talent for pushing together countries which have separate grievances with the West and giving them common cause to work against American interests.  Bad relations with Ukraine push Russia and Belarus much closer together.

Lukashenko had for years been sitting on two seats, flirting alternatively with the Kremlin and with Brussels.  The attempted color revolution in his country a year ago, which was nominally promoted by Lithuania but surely scripted from Washington, put paid to that balancing act.  Lukashenko by necessity threw in his lot with the Kremlin and has not looked back since, as the further materials presented on the Solovyov LIVE demonstrate.

For those who wonder how Washington could have so manipulated the Ukrainian leadership to arrange the break with Belarus, setting the stage for a joint Belarus-Russian invasion of Ukraine, I remind readers that the United States embassy in Kiev numbers over 900 staff, making it the largest U.S. diplomatic mission anywhere in Europe. Yes, CIA operatives are there in droves.  But then it is easy to imagine that other bureaucrats sent by Washington and perched in the embassy control key ministries in the Ukrainian government today just as their counterparts did in Russia during the Yeltsin years.

Now for the second video shown on the Solovyov LIVE program:  the meeting on Friday in Minsk between President Lukashenko and visiting Russian Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu.  Shoigu had come in connection with the pending start of massive Russian-Belarus war games, for which perhaps tens of thousands of Russian military personnel have been flown in, together with S-400 air defense missiles and other most recent weapons in the Russian inventory.  Pointedly the exercises will take place in the southern sector, that is to say just to the north of the border with Ukraine, which is itself just 100 km from Kiev.

In the video, Lukashenko is thanking the Russians for sending in their troops and most advanced military hardware, because he feels that the southern flank of Belarus is now vulnerable and needs reinforcement.  This will be the first time that Belarus military see the latest Russian equipment in front of them and not just in technical literature.  The exercises will provide the setting for Russians to provide training on this equipment to their Belarus colleagues, who will then operate it when the Russians return to their home bases. Moreover, Lukashenko said he will be purchasing this equipment in greater numbers in the coming year.

Lukashenko then spoke more broadly of the Russian-Belarus alliance as creating a unified defense territory from Brest to Vladivostok.  He made it clear that he intends to take concrete steps towards realizing the political integration with Russia that was sketched on paper two decades ago but had been dead letter.

From this the show moved on to deal with the old question of what would closer ties with Russia up to and including shared sovereignty bring to the principals.  It was always doubtful that Lukashenko would agree to accept a second tier role in such a combined state.  Now Golovanov and Mikheev were explaining the benefits to Belarus in broader terms than the immediate interests of one man.  As they pointed out, in the old USSR Belarus had a negligible share of leadership positions at the All-Union level, whereas the Ukraine was heavily favored.  Now that Ukraine is entirely out of play, some kind of merger with Russia would open up to the Belarus elites the possibility of playing leading roles in a country vastly larger than little Belarus.

From this perspective, the recent warnings to Belarus from the United States and the European Union not to get involved in any possible Russian attack on Ukraine would appear to be hopelessly ignorant of what they have wrought with their own hands: a Belarus-Russian union that was unthinkable just a couple of years ago.  And now, by way of the Belarus frontier, the Russians are capable of capturing Kiev within a day or two and liquidating the neo-Nazi forces that have held a knife to the throat of the civilian Ukrainian leadership before they know what hit them.

It would not be unreasonable to imagine that the departing staff from the U.S. and U.K. embassies in Kiev are not busy packing personal belongings before departure so much as burning all their incriminating office records.


We may take as a given that none of the foregoing statements by Belarus President Lukashenko, not to mention the interpretation of Belarus interest in a closer union, will appear in Western mainstream media. After all, they totally ignored the assassination plot against Lukashenko a year ago which was foiled by a joint Russian-Belarus intelligence operation and then featured on Russian state television. Not only the broad public but political elites in the United States will be clueless.

In my last article posted on this website, I mentioned that close monitoring of Russian electronic and print media is a large part of the added value I strive to bring to my readers. This point was picked up by a retired U.S. lieutenant colonel who wrote to me that he also closely follows Russian media. He explained that he takes Russian press articles and runs them through google machine translation to understand what is being said.

As the Russians would say молодец ! meaning “bravo.” Such monitoring is much better than just reading Sputnik or Tass English-language editions, because they are cut to size to suit Western audiences and do not have the richness of Russian-sourced news and commentary addressed to the home audience in Russia. Yet, from my experience, the richest vein of information ore is not print media but electronic media, meaning television broadcasts that are reposted on youtube, like the Solovyov LIVE show discussed above or the political talk shows that I usually mine. And all of these are in Russian language only, without a text to run through google.

One day, Russian news managers may understand that it would be a far better investment in Soft Power to translate and broadcast with English subtitles their best domestic television shows, rather than spend money on Russia Today and pay second quality ex-Canadian, British and American newscasters to produce programs for distribution in the West based on their own limited understanding of what constitutes news.  Until then, I can only urge would be commentators to take Russian lessons and do their homework.

©Gilbert Doctorow, 2022

13 thoughts on “The Belarus factor in any possible Russian-Ukrainian war

  1. I lived for 26 years in American and finished law School there, among other studies. I was naive and thought that I would be finally among people that I could discuss every subject with. Unfortunately, almost nobody had a trained and noble mind. Ignorance, arrogants and ideological fanaticism. It was a brutal experience for me, but one that I’m grateful for. It taught me a lot. Presently I’m a doctor in Poland and find that even though Poland is under the thumb of Washington, people have much more contact with reality than in America.
    In America everything is based on image. Performance means nothing. A dense cloud of unreality hangs over everday life. It’s as if one were living in a house of mirrors. I suppose this accounts for the absurd decisions of the US with respect to other countries because almost nobody has contact with reality.

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  2. Currently youtube does translate russian speech into english subtitles in youtube settings. A gross approximation for sure.


    1. Btw I have seen it work on embedded youtube videos in a chrome browser only. It has auto-translate to english subtitles from russian subtitles.


  3. Your beef with RT is exactly the one I have regarding quality and presenting Russia to the western public.
    Just look at the high quality of production that CGTN delivers daily, with excellent Chinese hosts speaking exceptional English featuring in political talk shows, to the presentations of Chinese culture, travels in China, food shows, and programs that address the importance of Africa to China, to hour-long features like the Big Picture.

    Compared to that RT is simply an expensive hobby by Ms. Simonyan, not worth the outlay except for a few features like some of Peters talk shows, the news only with regards to delivering a sometimes alternative to the western outlets (France 24, DW, and the NHK that I regularly watch on TV.


  4. I have a historical family connection to the ex-Soviet space, and have moderate proficiency in Russian, which is why I keep up with and have an interest in Russia and other countries that made up the Soviet Union. But otherwise, among my American friends, there is zero knowledge or interest in Russia. I remember as a child in the late 80s, there was at least a curiosity about and basic respect for the other side of the iron curtain. Now among educated people there are quick headlines picked up from The NY Times or FT, a sense of a has-been, declining frozen gas station with nuclear weapons, and nothing more. Russia is just one topic or meme in America, and even now it has dropped off the top, where it was for a few short weeks in January.

    I also have a strong personal connection to Japan (which is not at all a trivial country from an economic perspective), and I see that there, the media almost completely takes its Russia analysis from American media. Not western, not British, just American. I suspect this is true of most of the world, so American (and in other countries also British) domestic media has an enormous international influence. The Russian government has refined its domestic message, but has zero messaging internationally.

    Incidentally a few years ago Japanese television news would pick up special interest stories from Russian tv (as they also did from French tv), showing the human side of Russians, but even those stories are gone now. I don’t know if it’s something as simple as a licensing issue.


  5. I’ve been telling Western-educated friends and family for years: anyone who wants to significantly expand their horizons and gain access to a unique and sophisticated European perspective should start learning Russian. Even Elon Musk has been trying to learning Russian for some years now (as reported by EuroNews in 2019), as he knows that is where some of the best rocket/space technology is built.

    Personally, I’ve been learning Russian on/and/off for the past 2 years now, and I’ve reached the level where I can carry on a comfortable conversation with people about a variety of topics (Level B2), but I still struggle with highly professional productions like TV shows and literature. Living in a Russian-speaking country (Ukraine) certainly helps, and one gains a completely new perspective on the image of post-Soviet wastelands. Ukraine is actually a hidden jewel.

    I don’t agree that RT is poorly produced: it may not be as “professional” as the BBC or CNN, but they do produce some high quality documentaries, and they do know how to rip apart Western pretentiousness. Still, they could do better. One day I hope to work in this sphere.


    1. I liked RT better in its first year, when it had more “positive” programming and sort of gave off good vibes. As time went on they seemed to copy the style of the equivalent American news stations more and more, adding more negativity and narrowing the range of topics, to the point where they often just seemed to be replying to things being said on the American channels. In this way, it became part of the same “universe” as the American TV channels, and it didn’t help that many of the people working for them were Westerners – that’s all well and good in moderation, but it has become less “Russia Today” and more “Alternative America Today”.

      The depth of analysis in Russian-language print media, blogs and TV shows is certainly often much deeper and of a different character.

      But the thing I really dislike are the print articles on their website. For one thing, they seem to put a word-limit on them (copying sites like CNN in aiming at the short-attention-span audience), so forget in-depth analysis (with the rare exception, sure). Even worse, they put out a steady stream of salacious click-bait exotica like “Russian model arrested for doing porn photo-shoot in front of Orthodox church” or “drunk bear shows up on highway” and absolutely NO high-culture or folk-culture news/features. This leaves a completely skewed image of the country. Are Russian tax-payers happy paying for that?

      Also, when they do their a political article about some speech of Putin or Lavrov (often the only English-language write-up), they’ll pick only a few individual quotes (usually the most “shocking” ones) but they never give a link to the full transcript (whether in Russian or English) which I personally, when I can find it, always find much more informative than their interpretation. But I always have to hunt for it on my own. This is unacceptable, it’s as if they’ve given a style-guide to their writers to “never link to your sources, never use hyper-links inside your articles”.

      Also, they insist on having all speeches dubbed, they never put out videos with subtitles. I can’t stand listening to dubbed foreign speeches (or movies, for that matter) and I know I’m not alone. I absolutely agree with Dr. Doctorow’s suggestion that there needs to be a lot more subtitled content. There needs to be an equivalent of “Inosmi” (but for video, specifically) for bringing what is being said in Russia to the Western audience.

      I may even code something up to make this process easier myself, later this year… if nothing shows up…


  6. Russian troops may be able to reach Kiev in 1 to 2 days, but if the neo-Nazi factions opt to fight an urban guerrilla war, it will take a good deal longer to subdue them. I am hoping for no war.

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  7. My money on the likely course of a general war in Ukraine will be something like this: Russia doesn’t invade, it uses hypersonic missiles and their air force (coupled with EW blanketing Ukraine) to destroy the Ukrainian military and civilian command and control from a distance, “the American way”, as Russians put it. There will be special forces inserted to try to flip territory into breakaway provinces or even a new breakaway unified country in eastern Ukraine.

    This strategy, if successful, will come as a complete surprise to 99% of the elite in the USA and the rest of the West. The Biden administration will be deeply humiliated, and will immediately institute large scale sanctions as well as just a lot of screaming. These sanctions will actually work in the sense that they will very significantly damage the Russian economy and lead to a rupture with Europe. Europe can scrimp energy temporarily and buy LNG (which is anyway only twice as expensive as Russian pipeline gas). China will provide mostly moral support, as was hinted at by the BFF joint statement this past Friday with some anodyne commercial contracts and nothing of substance behind it. Russia has a half-baked domestic alternative to SWIFT and can work out payment methods with individual countries on an adhoc basis, so the economy won’t actually collapse, just go into deep recession. Of course Russia will have its own responses (no one in America seems to understand that Russia will actually respond in some way to “sanctions from hell”), like no-holds-barred hacking, some sort of counter-sanctions (on what, titanium, what does America need from Russia?), and a whole lot of non-lethal mischief making, cutting transatlantic ocean cables, shooting down GPS satellites, crashing or wiping data from financial markets, who knows?

    Despite any Russian response, the whole episode will leave Russia in a much worse place than where it started, which is why Putin doesn’t want to go there. So we are left with alternate-history fiction analysis at the Saker and similar sites.


  8. Sean, I think you are basically right in how things would progress in the event of an attack, although I wouldn’t necessarily bet on any sort of intervention in the Ukraine at all. Mr Putin is a former intelligence officer and a lawyer by training, and throughout his 20-odd years in power he has demonstrated the caution associated with both professions. He likes to act indirectly, in a manner that eschews grand gestures; and he has a marked respect for the forms of international law. These characteristics argue against an open invasion.

    This is shown by how he behaved in 2014, though you might just as profitably look at how he has won other existential struggles, such as how cautiously and slowly he took over the ORT and NTV tv channels in the early 2000s, and sidelined or co-opted rivals like Primakov. But looking at the Maidan, as that’s what’s most relevant here- faced as he was by the installation of a provisional government under Turchinov that was essentially inimical to Russia and its strategic interests as he saw them, you would think he ‘might as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb’ and take some of left-bank Ukraine as well as the Crimea. The sanctions would have been the same and the military challenge would probably have been small, given the sentiments in many parts of eastern Ukraine, and the fact that the Ukrainian armed forces had been run down badly on an annual budget of $1bn, compared with c$65bn for Russia. Yet, instead, he gave indirect, hidden support only. Even that isn’t certain: after all, were Strelkov and Bezler ‘just’ adventurers, or were they working for him? No idea.

    Anyway, it worked out for him in Donetsk and Lugansk but failed in Kharkov and Odessa. I believe he wanted other cities to follow and form ‘people’s republics’, but wouldn’t make any open moves to ensure it happened. Clearly nothing was going to happen in cities with more mixed affiliations like Dnipropetrovsk. Perhaps if he had intervened as decisively in Kharkov as he did in Simferopol, the bloodshed we have seen in the Donbass could have been avoided. I am not advocating an invasion, but still: lives could have been saved and a divorce more or less like the break up Czechoslovakia might have occurred.

    But the clause that allowed him under treaty to move his troops around the Crimea didn’t apply to Odessa, Cherson, Nikolaev etc etc- and so he tergivisated, equivocated- and missed his moment. That’s my view anyway, although we read a lot of commentaries that somehow Russia didn’t want or need the Ukraine. I think that’s just loser’s remorse. I think he did and does want it to rejoin Russia in some form.

    However, now it seems to be rather too late for a bold coup de main, and, as I say, it isn’t his style. In 2914 a criminal-revolutionary type like Lenin or Stalin might have attempted it; or a theatrical politician like Khrushchev or even Yeltsin; but not Putin, and certainly not now. He is capable of swift military action of course, as in Chechnya, South Ossetia and Syria, but there he could claim he was acting within the bounds of international law. Even in Ossetia, he said he was defending Russian peacekeepers. I don’t see how it applies to the Ukraine now, except if he intervenes to defend Russian passport-holders in the Donbass. That, of course, would gain him the DNR and LNR but wouldn’t at all solve his much bigger strategic problem with the rest of the country, as well as Romania, Bulgaria, Georgia, Moldavia etc.

    So, if an invasion is ruled out, I suppose we should expect more diplomatic protests; claims the West’s ministers are ‘unprofessional’; and declarations that pressure on Russia is ‘unacceptable’- but that won’t have anyone quaking in their boots. Nor can I see the deployment of the ‘Wunderwaffen’ like Poseidon making any difference, because everyone knows the Russians aren’t going to start a nuclear war, even if they are lurking around the Caribbean. What he might do I suppose is use some unknown radio-electronic means of attack. That would be both hidden (appeals to the spy in him) and not an unequivocal act of war (appeals to the lawyer).

    But he is utterly inscrutable, and guessing in this case especially seems to be a fool’s errand. I doubt even Lavrov knows at this stage what the ultimate sanction is going to be. However, he certainly is no fool, judging by the high oil price and the fact that investors seem to be put off for the moment from investing the Ukraine. That serves his purpose. Maybe he is playing a long game in which psychological pressure plays a large part.


    1. The typical BS about the “personalization” of politics, as if behind Putin not a host of specialists and analysts in their field would be called on to voice their opinions and supply options.
      Sure, the final decision might be taken by him alone, but certainly not without backing by those he asked for advice.

      “I think he did and does want it to rejoin Russia in some form.”

      I doubt this very much, the costs for having to join Ukraine in its present state should scare anybody. To have the western part of Ukraine ever again join Russia, with a mostly hostile population would really be the height of political stupidity. Fascist tendencies are strong there, similar o the sentiment in the Baltics. Russia even declined to accept the referendum results in Lugansk and Donbas that hastily and with dubious results had been undertaken.
      The Russian government’s preference was to achieve an autonomous status within Ukraine, it taking responsibility for the economy of the region.
      What would Russia really gain in acquiring the eastern region with a population, not in the majority pro joining the RF. Snd necessitating much financial support for infrastructure and industrial repairs. Much different from Crimea, where Russia had undertaken a poll before the referendum had been conducted which showed a +70% approval for such a move.

      “Russians aren’t going to start a nuclear war”

      Of course not, different from the USA, Russia has experience with a war on its own soil caused by invading forces. But Russia has enough new rocketry to destroy the Ukrainian forces without entering Ukraine with ground forces, and its doctrine stipulates that should NATO intervene with any officially announced measure, NAO headquarters and military installations would also be liable o come under fire.

      As to military capability and resilience of Russia maybe consult this site by a former Russian officer:


  9. I don’t think Lukashenko was “sitting on two seats”. He was accepting exploratory Western overtures in order to get a better deal for Belarus from Moscow, but there was never any chance he would defect. Putin’s ties to the West prior to 2014 were much more extensive than that of Lukashenko post-2014.


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