The British state had trained Belarusian troops—including in “urban warfare tactics”—before condemning the regime’s crackdown on protesters.
An investigation by the Declassified UK news website shows how links have grown between the British and Belarusian militaries. It comes as Western politicians, including British foreign secretary Dominic Rabb, condemned Belarusian ruler Aleksander Lukashenko for police violence in the wake of a rigged election.
The top brass from Britain and Belarus signed a “bilateral cooperation agreement for 2020” in November 2019.
Even on 29 June, Britain’s top general, Sir Nick Carter, telephoned Belarus’ senior general Alexander Volfovich to discuss “the current state and prospects for the development of bilateral military cooperation”.
In March the Royal Navy said that marines “shared essential experience and expertise with Belarusian forces during landmark exercises”. It saw joint training between Soldiers from the Royal Marines 42 Commando and Belarusian special forces from the 103 Guards Airborne Division.
Meanwhile, 20 soldiers from Belarus and Moldova practiced “live firing and new urban warfare tactics” in Wales in September 2019. It was part of Exercise Urban Ranger, at the Sennybridge Ranges in the Brecon Beacons, alongside British troops.
This cooperation flows from Lukashenko playing off rival imperialisms, the US, the European Union (EU) and Russia.
Mainstream media present the Belarusian ruler as “Putin’s man”, but their relationship is much more fraught.
Lukashenko has relied on Russian loans to prop up Belarus’ economy and therefore kept himself aligned in the Russian camp. But he didn’t pursue large scale privatisation after the collapse of Stalinist Russia and the Eastern Bloc, fearing free market shock therapy would destabilise his regime.
This has angered large sections of Russian oligarchs, who want to get their hands on Belarus’ state assets.
There have been other points of tensions between Lukashenko and Putin. So, more recently, Lukashenko has sought to bring in investment by building ties with the EU and China.
Putin has tried to put a stop to Belarus’ tilt towards the West, and began pushing Lukashenko into talks for a state union at the beginning of the year.
By taking part in British military exercises, Lukashenko was sending a message to Putin. Commenting on training in Belarus in March, political analyst Alexander Klaskovsky said, “The Belarusian leadership knows how Moscow reacts painfully to such things.
“Lukashenko is simply showing Moscow once again that there are plenty more fish in the sea and that he has alternatives.”
The West and Russia’s rivalry over Belarus has nothing to do with democracy vs dictatorship. But, against the backdrop of growing imperialist rivalry, it’s no surprise the US, Britain and EU pose as defenders of democracy.
They bank on a future president being solidly pro-Western and pro-market in order to weaken their Russian rivals.
But these same Western states were willing to court the Lukashenko regime when it suited their interests.