- Doubts about the legitimacy of Lukashenko’s regime resulted in EU sanctions in January 2022.
- Lukashenko gained a unique position of power as the global need for Ukrainian grain increased.
- The signing of this agreement will fortify Lukashenko’s position as the Belarussian leader.
Why is Lukashenko’s heat level hot?
Answer: President Lukashenko is heating up as he is gaining more leverage over sanctions
In January 2022, the Lithuanian government sanctioned Belarus by ceasing the transportation of Belarusian potash (an important ingredient in fertilizer) to their ports. Vilnius had already decided to distance itself from Belarus and Lukashenko prior to January since this ban took effect after a four-month wind-down period. This decision was taken after the violent crackdown on protesters following the disputed results of the Belarusian presidential elections. In 2020, Linas Linkevičius, the Lithuanian Foreign Minister, had already mentioned the possibilities of sanctions.
These sanctions are not without significance since Belarus is in need of these ports, being a landlocked country. Moreover, potash is Belarus’s second most important export, generating 2 billion USD in 2019.
A month after the sanctions were put into place, Lukashenko contacted Vladmir Putin. The two presidents came to an agreement in which Putin promised to build a port so that Belarus can export its potash. However, the logistics of such a project are extremely complicated, and it could take years before the port is operational. Belarus does not have the luxury to wait years before being able to export potash, seeing the importance of this good to the well-being of its economy.
In view of these facts, Lukashenko had a telephonic meeting with U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on the 3rd of June where he explained that Belarus was ready to free up the needed capacity on its railway for Ukraine’s grain. In exchange, Belarus would be provided access to Baltic ports to resume their trade by sea.
Lukashenko’s level is hot because the global need for Ukrainian grains has put him in a unique position. For the first time since 2020, he has enough leverage to lift the port sanctions. However, his level is not blazing as this is just a proposition. There has been no written agreement, and some politicians have been reluctant to agree to Lukashenko’s terms and conditions. Moreover, the Ukrainian president himself explained that he is not ready to operate with Putin’s allies.
Indeed, Vladmir Putin is involved in this agreement. The Ukrainian government is looking for alternative options such as asking for Turkey’s help to escort and transport the grains through the Black Sea. However, once again both Moscow and Kiev will have to agree on this arrangement.
What is changing Lukashenko’s temperature?
Answer: There is an increasing and pressing need for a way to transport Ukrainian grains
Since Russia invaded Ukraine, Lukashenko has gained more leverage over the EU and American sanctions. This is due to the fact that Belarus is now in a unique position of power regarding global food security. According to both the Ukrainian government and Washington, up to 500,000 tons of Ukrainian wheat, worth 100 million USD, have not been able to leave the country to be sold abroad. This has resulted in a shortage of grains worldwide. However, this has been felt especially in Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia, which are experiencing considerable drought. This has made them even more reliant on imported wheat to feed their populations.
One of the options that is being considered by these leaders is to buy more wheat from Russia. Their top priority at the moment is to feed hundreds of thousands of people. It is in that spirit that leaders of the African Union met with Putin on the 3rd of June to discuss possible agreements on grains. Until now many African leaders had remained neutral regarding the situation in Ukraine. However, this could change the status quo and Russia could be gaining more international support. By providing grains, Putin is continuing to foster his image as the ally of African countries.
Indeed, this is an image that he has been creating over the last couple of years as Russia has been more involved in African domestic matters. More recently, the antiterrorism operations in the Sahel which were led by France and its Western allies left the region. Soon after Russia started increasing its involvement in the region and its fight against terrorism. Russia has increased its involvement in Africa in order to gain access to more natural resources. For example, Russia has gained access to mines in Mali in exchange for military assistance. Furthermore, there are several Russian companies which are exploiting African natural resources like uranium and are looking to expand their operations.
If Russia manages to provide many African countries with grains, Putin will be in a position to ask for more access to natural resources and for Russian companies to expand. Another reason behind the increasing Russian involvement is that trade with Africa may offset some losses from sanctions.
European leaders, on the other hand, want to prevent any potential agreements between the African Union and Russia which would limit their own access to African natural resources. For example, one third of France’s uranium which is used to power its nuclear reactors is imported from Niger. Consequently, the newly appointed German Chancellor Scholz met with several African leaders at the end of the month of May. During these meetings he promised to help those countries on the continent that have been affected by the global food crisis.
4This benefits Lukashenko, who is disposed to provide them with an effective and quick solution to their problem. If there had not been this crisis and a sense of urgency to act, Lukashenko would be in no position to ask for the sanctions to be lifted.
What is driving Lukashenko?
Answer: Now in a unique position, Lukashenko is looking to lift sanctions and bolster his regime
First of all, looking at the economic factor, allowing Ukrainian grains to transit through Belarus will lift the economic sanctions that have been put in place since January. Belarus will once again have access to different ports and will be able to export its goods to countries all around the world. This is especially important now since Russia (Belarus’ biggest trade partner) has decreased their import of goods from Belarus since January. This agreement will help the Belarusian economy become more stable.
Looking at the political factor, since the 2020 elections, Lukashenko’s legitimacy as the rightful Belarussian leader has been put into question by European leaders. In August of 2020, the Seimas (the Lithuanian parliament) adopted a resolution calling for the non-recognition of Belarus’ presidential election. The EU soon followed in Lithuania’s footsteps declaring that the results of Lukashenko’s reelection were fraudulent. With criticism about the validity of his electoral victory, Lukashenko builds legitimacy through the signing of this multilateral agreement with leaders who in the past had refused to recognize him.
What does this mean for you?
Answer: This agreement will help feed hundreds of thousands of people
If this deal was to be passed, then it would help alleviate the hunger crisis for many African countries. As mentioned at the beginning of the article, it could prevent hundreds of thousands of people from dying of starvation. It would prevent even more people from having to migrate to other countries, including Europe.
Russia’s actions have emboldened another player to start leveraging power. Lukashenko is not the only leader who has benefited from the invasion of Ukraine. Putin’s actions have indeed mobilized situations around the world that were previously in a stalemate, precisely because of the crises that have reverberated globally. Now, Lukashenko and other leaders are gaining new options over their sanctions regarding the EU and US because of this Black Swan event.
Finally, Lukasheno’s alliance with Putin will only become stronger. It is in Lukashenko’s interest to remain a close ally to Putin, as he has been a key ally when other leaders questioned the results of the election and sanctioned his country. Zelensky explained that this agreement could be used to shift the grain narrative. If this agreement was to be passed it would give Russia more authority over the transport of Ukraine’s grains. This could help Putin broker agreements with the African Union since he will be the one who has helped them solve part of the hunger crisis.