On Monday the foreign minister of Belarus, Vladimir Makei, expressed alarm over recent statements by NATO’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg about his nation, ones that were openly hostile and implicitly threatening. He’s quoted by the Belarusian Telegraph Agency voicing these concerns: “We are absolutely concerned over these recent statements by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. Just a few days ago, he expressed concern over deeper ties between Minsk and Moscow, saying that they see it as a threat to the alliance’s eastern flank. They are also concerned about closer cooperation between Moscow and Beijing. They also see it as a threat.”
Although one of many statements in the same vein of late, the foreign minister may at least in part have been responding to an interview with Stoltenberg published by the Welt am Sonntag on June 6 in which the NATO chief said the military bloc was “following what is happening in Belarus very closely,” especially what he claimed were closer ties between Belarus and its neighbor and Union State partner Russia.
He warned that the thirty-nation military bloc he leads is prepared “to protect and defend any ally against any kind of threat coming from Minsk and Moscow.” The language was inflammatory and threatening and meant to conjure up a specter of a new mini- (or micro-) Warsaw Pact. Belarus has a population of some 9.5 million. NATO nations have a population of over 1 billion.
The Belarusian foreign minister also said that his country doesn’t comment on the closer integration of NATO member states or the relations of the latter with third parties. He then posed the question: “Does it all mean that we should stay silent while they will react to a minor event [likely the Ryanair incident] and tell us how to live?”
On June 14 CNBC interviewed Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda who, echoing statements from leaders of NATO nations and NATO partners that portray the lamb as a threat to the wolf, launched this diatribe:
“We see the military buildup of Russian forces in Ukraine, in [the] Kaliningrad region [part of Russia] and of course we see what’s happening in Belarus right now. We see that this country is losing its last elements of independence, and could be used in the hands of Russians as a weapon….for foreign aggressive activities towards NATO allies.” Again the numbers: 9.5 million vs 1 billion.
In a recent interview with Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky condemned the consolidation of the Union State between Belarus and Russia in these words:
“We are observing how Russia and Belarus persistently cooperate with each other. They can include defense there, and then these countries will be able to exert serious pressure on us.”
Four of the five nations bordering Belarus are members or an Enhanced Opportunities Partner of a military bloc controlled by the U.S. – Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, and Ukraine, respectively – but closer cooperation between two neighboring states with the same cultural, linguistic and religious background is a threat to Ukraine, Europe and North America according to Zelensky.
Over a month ago he claimed of tensions with Russia at the time, “I think it could be a world war.” He also said Russia could invade Ukraine not only from Crimea (which Ukraine and its American, NATO and European Union sponsors refer to as temporarily occupied territory) but also from Belarus.
Speaking at the same event as the Ukrainian president when he made the comments, Ukrainian Defense Minister Andriy Taran claimed “Russian military hardware still remains near our northern border,” and asserted his nation’s armed forces were monitoring events inside Belarus and were considering the invasion of Ukraine by Russian troops through Belarus “or the spread of military aggression through Belarusian territory.”
The defense chief also warned that “if necessary, we have developed plans and we know how to act if we see signs of the creation of a group of armed forces that can be used through Belarus.” Zelensky, Taran and other leading Ukrainian officials, in attempting to depict Belarus as a threat to their nation, frequently alluded to the autumn, specifically September, when Russia and Belarus are scheduled to hold the latest iteration of the quadrennial Zapad military exercise.
Regarding Belarus, Defense Minister Taran spoke in these terms in May: “As for the escalation, perhaps in the autumn, I would say this: If I expect there might be an escalation in the autumn, I must be held criminally liable. We expect a possible escalation at any moment. We are always ready to give an appropriate rebuff.”
As to who is likely to invade whom, after the presidential election last August Belarusian President repeatedly warned of NATO nations invading the western part of his country with statements like: “The defense ministry should pay special attention to movements of NATO forces in Poland and Lithuania. We should track all directions of their movements and intentions.”
In regard to which Defense Minister Viktor Khrenin said: “I can confidently state that the Armed Forces are ready for combat. The morale is high. We are ready to carry out missions. The main task for us is to preserve territorial integrity, sovereignty, and independence of the country….” Monday’s Belarusian media report that the nation’s members of parliament have sent an appeal to the United Nations and other international organizations concerning the threat to the nation.
In the words of Sergei Sivets, the chairman of the Standing Commission on Legislation and State Construction:
“You know that the MPs of all levels and members of the Council of the Republic of the National Assembly have adopted the address to the international community in connection with the situation around Belarus. The situation is primarily connected with the unprecedented political, information and sanctions pressure on our country on the part of the collective West. We have put together the signature sheets of the authentic signatures of all deputies and members of the Council of the Republic, sent it to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which in turn will froward them to international and intergovernmental organizations….”
In late May President Lukashenko addressed members of parliament and other government officials and used the same language as did the Ukrainian president earlier about the true nature of the threat that a war in northeastern Europe would portend:
“The time has chosen us. We have found ourselves on the front line of a new cold, even freezing cold war. Only countries that will be able to resist this hybrid pressure will hold out.
The goal is clear. We also know who would benefit from demonizing Belarus. We are a small country, but we will respond appropriately. The world knows examples of similar situations. Before making any rushed moves, remember, that Belarus is in the center of Europe, and if things spin out of control here – it will be another world war.”
NATO may be planning to treat Belarus as it did Serbia/Yugoslavia 22 years ago. But unlike Serbia, Belarus borders Russia. And autumn is not far off.