Uncovered: Confidential papers detail Russia’s strategy for annexing Belarus

A leaked internal strategy document from Vladimir Putin’s executive office, which was obtained by Yahoo News, reveals Russia’s plan to gain complete control over neighboring Belarus within the next ten years. The document outlines a detailed plan for a creeping annexation of Belarus by Russia, using political, economic, and military means under the pretext of a merger between the two countries. While Russia is actively engaged in a state of war with Ukraine to conquer it through overwhelming force, it aims to achieve its goal with Belarus using coercion.

The document sets a target of forming a Union State of Russia and Belarus by 2030, which would involve harmonizing Belarusian laws with those of the Russian Federation, coordinating foreign and defense policy, and prioritizing trade and economic cooperation based on Russian interests. In practice, this would eliminate any remaining sovereignty of Belarus, turning it into a Moscow satellite and threatening the security of its European neighbors, including NATO and EU members Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland.

According to some observers, the strategy confirms what has long been evident and openly acknowledged by both Moscow and Minsk. Svetlana Tsikhanovskaya, the Belarusian opposition leader in exile in Lithuania, described the Union State as a roadmap for Belarus’s absorption by Russia and a threat to Belarusian statehood and its people. The Kremlin did not respond to Yahoo News’ request for comment.

The strategy document was obtained by an international consortium of journalists and was never before made public. The Presidential Directorate for Cross-Border Cooperation, a subdivision of Putin’s Presidential Administration, is responsible for the document’s authorship and was established five years ago to exert control over neighboring countries that Russia sees as in its sphere of influence. These countries include Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldova.

A man is shown passing by a billboard featuring a soldier holding a rifle in a cornfield as a large bird flies past. In Minsk, a man is seen walking past a billboard with the message, “This is our land, and I will protect it!” written in Belarusian, as captured in a photo by Natalia Kolesnikova/AFP via Getty Images last week.

The Directorate, which is headed by Alexey Filatov and directly reports to Dmitri Kozak, the deputy chief of the Presidential Administration, has been assigned to create new strategies that would specify Russia’s strategic objectives in all six countries. The directorate used the resources and input of most of the vital Russian state institutions, including Russia’s domestic, foreign, and military intelligence services (FSB, SVR, GRU) and the General Staff of the Armed Forces. According to a Western intelligence officer with direct knowledge of the strategy document, the resulting Union State plan was presented to Kozak in the fall of 2021.

All six countries in the directorate’s purview were formerly part of the Soviet Union. However, while Ukraine and the Baltic states have embraced Western-style democracy, Belarus has been ruled for the past three decades by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, an ally of Russia, who is frequently referred to as “Europe’s last dictator.” Lukashenko has been in power since winning the presidency in 1994, with none of his succession of elections ever being considered free by international monitors. His last election in 2020 was especially controversial, and a mass protest movement took to the streets, denouncing it as rigged.

The Union State, which is designed to integrate Russia and Belarus politically, economically, and culturally, was first introduced in the mid-1990s. A federation with its own governing institutions, including a council of ministers, parliament, and high court, was established in 1999, but the project did not materialize. In 2018, however, the concept was revived, coinciding with Putin’s aggressive geopolitical ambitions.

Lukashenko and Putin signed an agreement in November 2021 that allowed for 28 integration programs, mostly focused on economic and regulatory questions, as well as a joint military doctrine, but political aspects were excluded.

Despite the Kremlin’s aggression, especially towards Ukraine, and the concerns of its neighboring countries, Lukashenko remains one of the few external geopolitical partners of Russia, which is becoming increasingly isolated.

In 2014, Putin invaded and illegally annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula, and the Kremlin incited, armed, and financed a “separatist” movement in Donbas in eastern Ukraine that same year. Russia announced in September 2022 that it had annexed four regions in southern and eastern Ukraine last year, even as its military was being pushed back in those areas.

Finally, Ukrainian servicemen attended joint military drills near the border with Belarus on Monday, as depicted in Reuters’ photo by Ivan Lyubysh-Kirdey.

The Union State agreement that is currently pending between Russia and Belarus includes several aspects that show Russia’s strategy of increasing its influence in the country. Energy integration is a significant factor, as Belarus already imports its gas from Russia and Ostrovets 1, Belarus’s nuclear reactor, is intended to be enlisted in a power-sharing scheme between the two countries. The document also shows Russia’s plan to “Russianize and control” Belarus’s civil society by establishing Moscow-friendly NGOs with financial and legal support from Russia. This would make it easier for Moscow to recruit Belarusians to its security organs, posing new international security threats for NATO and the EU. The document also states that by 2030, Russia must have “control of the information space” in Belarus, which includes establishing a single cultural space and common interpretation of history. One key deliverable is the predominance of the Russian language over Belarusian. However, there are signs that Belarus’s government is not entirely happy with the prospect of becoming Russia’s vassal. Despite the country’s closeness to Russia, Lukashenko has always emphasized its independence, and both he and Putin are reportedly waiting for the other to die.

The document also reveals that Russia plans to establish a military-industrial complex in Belarus, with a view to increasing arms exports to other countries. This would include the joint development of new military technologies and systems, and the construction of new facilities in Belarus for the production of Russian military hardware. This would further cement Belarus’s dependence on Russia, as well as potentially exacerbating regional tensions.

Overall, the Union State program reveals Russia’s deepening influence over Belarus, as well as its broader ambition to re-establish control over its former Soviet neighbors. While Lukashenko may be hesitant to fully cede control to Moscow, the pressure from Russia is likely to continue. As such, the future of Belarus remains uncertain, and the country’s people may ultimately find themselves at the mercy of an increasingly aggressive Russia.

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