“The potential for escalation is extremely high,” Kalle Laanet, Estonia’s Defense Minister
“Remember that guy who gave up? Neither does anybody else.” Anonymous
Our family has one, one and a half, two children maximum! Aleksander Lukashenko
This week I want to step into the strange world of global security involving one of the world’s last remaining self-proclaimed dictators: Alexander Lukashenko. A relic of the Soviet Union and the cold war, Lukashenko has been the only President in Belarus’s history since the office was established in 1994, and it is widely accepted that his presidency has been maintained through violence, corruption, and massive election fraud.
If Lukashenko was just another megalomaniac authoritarian leader, this topic would have already been written about enough. However, there are some things afoot that make the character of Alexander Lukashenko an anomaly, and a dangerous one at that. His recent actions have the potential to lead Europe into an extremely deadly war, a war that it clearly would like to avoid. The conditions of the NATO general membership agreement and article number 5, however, make avoidance next to impossible.
There is also another factor that makes this a particularly precarious and troubling matter. As it currently stands, there are a handful of eighteen-year-old (or so) privates from eastern European countries tasked with responsibilities that, if handled incorrectly, have the potential of thrusting NATO, Belarus, and Russia into a dangerous armed conflict that could escalate to a global nuclear war. If you think that I may be overstating the reality, just read on.
Once armed with the facts, I believe you will see that the potential for large-scale conflict is a plausible reality that leaves Europe daily hanging in the balance. There is so much more than meets the eye in the unfolding of these potentially dangerous events.
In May, the Belarus Lukashenko regime illegally forced a Ryanair plane to land while transiting Belarusian airspace on the pretense that explosives were reported to be on the plane. Once the plane landed, Belarusian officials’ true intentions were made clear when they apprehended an opposition activist living in exile, Roman Protasevich, and his girlfriend, who were aboard the flight. European human rights groups are calling for a full investigation into the Lukashenko regime and are demanding a full accounting of this dangerous assault on a civilian airliner.
This event has been the proverbial “straw that broke the camel’s back” between Belarus and much of the rest of Europe. In response to what many have called an outright hijacking, a series of sanctions have been levied by the EU against the Belarus government and the powerful elite of the country, and aggressive rhetoric has rapidly escalated on both sides.
The scenes that have unfolded at the Polish-Belarusian border since November 8th were also his concoction. Belarusian travel agents in Iraq offer flights, a visa, and the sham promise of an easy path to a new life in Europe in exchange for thousands of dollars US. Arrivals in Minsk are whisked through the woods to a spot on the border where, far from swiftly crossing into Poland and embarking on the supposed opportunity to move around the Schengen free-travel zone, migrants end up squeezed between the EU’s razor-wire fences and Belarusian men with guns, unable to go forward or back.
As of November 11th, some 2,000 were trapped near the current main point of concern, the Kuznica crossing. There have been a number of attempts to breach the border there. An estimated 20,000 migrants are thought to be elsewhere in Belarus, with more still continuing to fly in via Istanbul and other Middle Eastern cities on Belavia, the Belarusian state carrier.
The EU’s response so far has been relatively decisive. On 21 June, the Council decided to impose restrictive measures against 78 Belarusian individuals and eight entities. This decision was made in view of the escalation of serious human rights violations in Belarus and the violent repression of civil society, democratic opposition, and journalists. Moreover, seven individuals and one entity subject to this new round of restrictive measures were designated in connection to the forced and unlawful landing of a Ryanair flight in Minsk, Belarus, on 23 May 2021.
Lukashenko’s response to the EU’s response.
Lukashenko’s regime has chosen to use illegal migration as a weapon. Lithuania shares a 679km (422 miles) border with Belarus, and since the beginning of the year, has seen a nearly 30-fold increase in the number of illegal migrants (most of whom are Iraqi citizens), or 2,388 people as of July 22. When Lithuanian National TV and Radio investigated, it found that migrants are “trafficked” into Belarus with the help of Belarusian tourist agencies and other intermediaries.
The refugees are allegedly assisted with Belarusian visas and air tickets, checking into a Minsk hotel, and then being transported to the Lithuanian border, where they are even instructed on what to do and to say. It is unclear who funds these schemes. Clearly, Mr. Lukashenko is willing to make people suffer if the television footage causes problems in Europe. He is bent on revenge and exoneration from his deeds.
So where would such a strategy emanate from? A lot can be discerned from the temperament of Lukashenko himself. Let’s take a look at some of the things that Lukashenko has said concerning the geopolitics of his country and its relationship with his neighbors.
“We will not hold anyone back. We are not their final destination after all. They are headed to enlightened, warm, cozy Europe,” (note a hint of sarcasm in his voice)
Because the EU sanctions are “stifling the Belarusian people,” Belarus would no longer be providing security for the EU border — if Lithuania wants help, it should pay Belarus.
“I don’t really understand what a dictator is, but on the other hand I sometimes, in a nice way, envy myself, he said. I am the last and only dictator in Europe and indeed there are none anywhere else in the world.
Lukashenko fancies himself as a benevolent dictator and is most proud of it, openly admitting what the EU is accusing him of.
“We have rigged the latest election. 93.5 percent have voted for Lukashenko. But they say it is not a European outcome. We have made it 86 percent.”
“A thug only understands you when you speak his language”
Lukashenko threatened to cut off gas supplies through the Yamal pipeline to Germany. “We are heating Europe, they are still threatening us that they will close the border. And if we shut off natural gas there?,” This is Lukashenko’s threat to the EU if they continue with sanctions. The Yamal-Europe pipeline provides most of Germany and Northern Europe’s petroleum supplies.
The role Belarus plays in energy geopolitics is one of the most unusual in the world. While not a petroleum supplier, it sells refined oil products to many countries. And while not a natural gas producer, it delivers the fuel to numerous countries via pipelines built during Soviet times. Its unique situation stems from Belarus’s location next to its nearly sole energy supplier, Russia, and the fact that its economy is heavily based on these hydrocarbon resources.
How important is Belarus’s petroleum sector? The importance of the energy sector to Belarus’s overall economy is difficult to overstate. In fact, it is paramount to its survival. The Belarusian state obtains a substantial share of its revenue from selling products derived from Russian crude, re-exporting Russian oil and, charging Russia a transit fee to send billions of cubic meters of gas a year to Ukraine and Europe through Belarus’s pipeline networks. The Belarusian Statistics Committee says Belarus makes $1.1 billion a year from selling refined oil products and $1 billion a year from sending Russian oil and gas to other countries.
Why am I spending so much time on Belarus’s petroleum economics? It may be the only thing that keeps Lukashenko in check. There are billions of dollars at risk should this border situation get out of control. The problem is, many believe that Lukashenko’s megalomania might be big enough that he will risk it all for the sake of his legacy. It is not such a wild prospect, especially after what we are seeing in our own country today.
As a result of the aforementioned circumstances, there is a significant stand-off at the borders of Belarus and Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia. Lukashenko has determined to punish the EU, specifically Germany, for its sanctions against Belarus. He intends to do this through several means.
First, he intends to flood Europe with immigrants who he believes will cost the EU so much, both economically and socio-politically, that they will have to soften toward Belarus to turn off the flow of immigrants. I just learned that the number of asylum seekers is much larger than anybody is reporting. My contacts within the refugee community say they are receiving close to 1,000 refugees a day coming through Belarus. That number can add up fast. It is estimated that Germany will spend approximately $56 billion dollars this year on refugee settlement, welfare, and training. It is unlikely that the EU will allow that number to become unmanageable.
Second, Lukashenko is betting that his ploy will divide the EU leadership. He is counting on some EU states to try and deal with him independently in order to gain some sort of advantage. To date, there is a uniform disdain for Lukashenko across both northern and southern Europe. Lukashenko is granting himself much more influence than actually exists.
Third, Lukashenko believes that if Europe does not get the oil and natural gas that he sees himself alone as controlling, it will come begging for him to turn the pumps back on to relieve them of this catastrophic problem. Once again, Lukashenko is greatly overestimating his position and he is underestimating the determination of economies to obtain that which he controls, petroleum. Wars have been fought over much less.
Last, Lukashenko, in his state of self-importance, is a man who will burn his boats and in order to manipulate those around him by allowing for no escape. He will manipulate the West into making the gross error of over-responding to a border incident, fomenting a possibly limitless war. In his narcissistic stupor, he would rather destroy his nation and the lives of those around him than admit defeat or error. It is this last scenario that one finds most alarming because the cost is extant and beyond anything that we can imagine.
I return back to my initial quote by Kalle Laanet, as to why this matter is of extreme importance. “The potential for escalation is extremely high,” I repeat myself, the variables are very fragile. They may even rest in the hands of two young teenagers, both charged with protecting a fenced border, both very much afraid, both determined to achieve one thing: survive the night alive.
I was a young Cavalry officer back in the ’80s. On a few occasions, I was tasked to supervise border checkpoints along the German-Czech border. Who were these checkpoints manned by? They were 18-year-old privates, some barely enlisted for 6 months in the Army. They were trained, they knew the Rules of Engagement (ROE), but their zeal for duty was only surpassed by their youthfulness and inexperience. Their leader? A 24-year-old junior lieutenant, determined to do his job well and with honor. It is a matter that all of us should know and consider.
We should be aware. If this type of gray zone warfare works for a small country such as Belarus, could it work for other adversaries of the United States and Europe? The simple reality is the weaponization of refugees in such a mobile world is literally a poor man’s atomic bomb. It can cause more damage than you or I could imagine. Nefarious players in the world know that doing anything to hurt the vulnerable goes against the grain of our Judeo-Christian worldview and that we will do all we can to preserve these people’s lives, even at enormous risk and expense to our own welfare and benefit.
Erdogan Fosters Anti-Western Sentiment in Turkey… https://www.investigativeproject.org/9071/erdogan-fosters-anti-western-sentiment-in-turkey
U.S. GROWING CONCERNED OVER INCREASINGLY ASSERTIVE RUSSIAN MILITARY POSTURE… https://mailchi.mp/thesoufancenter/us-growing-concerned-over-increasingly-assertive-russian-military-posture?e=47e9e33bef
For your comments or questions about any of our digests please feel free to write to me at: email@example.com
https://jamestown.org/program/belaruss-role-in-east-european-energy-geopolitics/“How much does Belarus make in oil exports,” Express. by, April 27, 2019, https://ex-press.by/rubrics/ekonomika/2019/04/27/skolko-belarus-zarabatyvaet-na-tranzite-rossijskoj-nefti-menshe-chem-na-korovax.