Belarus has surrendered its sovereignty in all but name. This was tragically evident in late February when Russian ruler Vladimir Putin sent his invasion forces into Ukraine, not just from across the border with Russia, but also from across the border with Belarus.
Putin had deployed tens of thousands of his troops to Belarus and now plans to leave a considerable number of them in Belarus indefinitely. This means that however Putin’s war on the former Soviet nation of Ukraine turns out, he has already quietly conquered another major former Soviet state.
This takeover of a country of 9.5 million people, wedged between Russia and Europe, is a strategic victory against Russia’s adversary, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
How was Putin able to quietly accomplish this major strategic goal? What does it mean for global security?
‘Europe’s Last Dictator’
Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko has often been called Europe’s last dictator. With men like Hungary’s Viktor Orbán now in power, “last” is up for debate. But what is certain is that Lukashenko is a dictator—the type who will leave the presidential palace only in a coup or a coffin. What is also sure is that Lukashenko has linked himself to Putin—a man he sometimes calls his “big brother”—in a way that no other world leader has even approached.
The 67-year-old Lukashenko is one of very few world leaders who has actually been on the scene longer than Putin. The former Soviet soldier and Communist farming and industrial director was elected president in 1994, three years after the country became independent from the dissolving Soviet Union, and six years before Putin came to power.
Unlike the leaders of most other former Soviet states who wanted to make a clean break with the failures of the past, Lukashenko preserved the relics of communism in Belarus. He enshrined the anniversary of the October Revolution of 1917 as a national holiday, kept an iron grip on state-owned factories and farms that comprise the bulk of the nation’s economy, and he kept Belarussian economics, culture, politics and defense closely aligned with Russia.
In 1997, Lukashenko actually began work on a plan to create a “Union of Belarus and Russia.” Its stated purpose was nothing less than unifying the peoples of the two countries into one political entity, with one flag, one currency, one judiciary, one integrated economy and one military—a union as close as or closer than existed under Soviet dictatorship. When Putin took over Russia a few years later, he and Lukashenko became fast friends, and Russia strengthened its effort to create this two-state union.
In the early 2000s, Lukashenko’s regime came to rely even more heavily on Russia, particularly its supply of steeply discounted energy. And Belarus became ever more vital to Putin. Following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the U.S. military established ties with some post-Soviet nations. nato planned to deploy missile defense systems in Eastern Europe, and several East European nations started shifting their policies in favor of Europe and the West.
These developments gave Belarus, a pro-Russia buffer between Europe and the Russian landmass, extreme strategic value to Putin.
In the following years, Putin and Lukashenko integrated their two countries and militaries further. They conducted dozens of joint war exercises each year, began developing joint weapons programs, and built three joint combat training centers.
With each of these developments, the Russian-Belarussian “Slavic Brotherhood” grew. Still, Lukashenko delayed full integration with Russia. He rolled out the red carpet for Putin’s visits and discussed integration with him in highly publicized meetings. But when it came to real action, Lukashenko delayed. He was dependent on Russia, yet he also kept Belarus connected to various nato and European Union nations and to the United States. For two decades Lukashenko maintained this balancing act to keep Belarus from being completely dominated by Russia. It seemed he would be able to maintain it for as long as his heart kept beating. But in the summer of 2020, the situation changed dramatically.
From Russia With Strings
In the 2020 Belarus presidential election, exit polls showed that voters had ousted Lukashenko in a landslide. But he falsified the count and claimed to have won 80 percent of the vote.
This “democracy with Russian characteristics” infuriated many Belarussians. Some 200,000 of them marched through the capital city, the largest anti-government protests in the nation’s history. After 26 years of Lukashenko’s corruption, mismanagement and electoral fraud, the people had the numbers and the tenacity to stand up to “Europe’s last dictator.”
Then “big brother” intervened.
Most European leaders sided with the protesters and rejected Lukashenko’s official election results. Together with the U.S., they fired volley after volley of sanctions in reaction to his bloody crackdowns on the protests. Putin accepted the results, spoke in support of Lukashenko, and gave him hundreds of millions of dollars in discounted energy and loans. But he went much further than that: He announced publicly that he stood ready to send Russian troops into Belarus to help Lukashenko subdue the protesters. Doing so would give him far more leverage over Lukashenko.
So there was neither a coup nor a coffin for Lukashenko. Putin had saved him politically—and maybe physically. He put the opposition down and consolidated his power further. And now Lukashenko owes “big brother.”
Not long after, Putin wanted to station 30,000 Russian troops on Belarussian soil, the largest number since the Cold War. Lukashenko was against it: He understood that, despite the two nations’ “Slavic brotherhood,” approving this would represent a surrender of his nation’s sovereignty. But he had no choice.
Lukashenko also revoked his nation’s nuclear-free and defense neutrality commitments, thus allowing Russia to deploy its nuclear weapons there. He also agreed to accelerate the Union of Belarus and Russia plan. Now Russian troops have used his country to invade Ukraine and are conducting a de facto soft occupation of Belarus.
Lukashenko’s days of balancing Belarus between Russia and the West are over. Putin has effectively annexed the country, turning back the clock to its Soviet Union days to make it Russia’s vassal once again.
The ‘Prince of Russia’
The Soviet Union was infamous for its communism and attendant repression, purges and perverse prison camps. Its appalling agricultural and industrial mandates had killed more than 10 million of its own people. When it collapsed in the early 1990s, many celebrated it as a victory for human freedom.
Not Vladimir Putin. In a 2005 speech, he called the collapse of that tyrannical, dehumanizing regime “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century.”
Putin has made clear that what he mainly misses is not necessarily the ideals of communism, but the power and prestige of Russia, Belarus, Ukraine and 12 other nations when they formed a nuclear-armed empire dominated by a Russian dictator.
In the years since Putin’s statement, he has devoted much of Russia’s might into reuniting those nations. He has worked to reverse that “catastrophe” and to build something even more dominant over its people and more powerful against the West than the Soviet Union ever was.
Putin invaded the former Soviet nation of Georgia in 2008, bringing a fifth of its territory back under Russian control. In 2014, he forcibly annexed the key former Soviet territory of Crimea from Ukraine and increased support for rebels in the east of the country, plunging it into a conflict that has lasted eight years and killed 14,000 people and counting. In 2020, he stationed thousands of Russian troops in Azerbaijan for the first time, where they will remain, apparently indefinitely. He has also spent two decades and hundreds of billions of dollars modernizing the Russian military, including superweapons such as hypersonic nuclear missiles that can evade even the most advanced defense systems.
This year’s dramatic escalation of the attack on Ukraine is part of that strategy. So is his quiet conquest of Belarus.
The Trumpet carefully watches the development of this new Russian empire because of its understanding of Bible prophecy. Revelation 9:16 describes Asia amassing a colossal army of 200 million troops, 15 times the size of the largest army ever assembled in human history. It is described as conducting operations during a third world war that will dwarf all world wars and other military conflicts of the 20th century, combined. Ezekiel 38 and 39 show that at the helm of this gargantuan force will be a man called the “prince” of Russia.
Trumpet editor in chief Gerald Flurry has identified Vladimir Putin as this prince. In his 2017 booklet The Prophesied ‘Prince of Russia,’ he writes: “This world has a lot of authoritarian rulers. But Vladimir Putin is one we need to keep a particularly close eye on. His track record, his nationality and his ideology show that he is fulfilling a linchpin Bible prophecy. The time frame of his rule also shows that nobody else could be fulfilling the Ezekiel 38 and 39 prophecy.”
Mr. Flurry’s booklet explains that Putin’s leadership of Russia, including his conquest of former Soviet nations like Belarus, shows that the world is barreling toward a time of violence and calamity far worse than anything in humanity’s calamitous history!
But Mr. Flurry emphasizes that there is also great hope laced into these prophecies. He writes that the fact Putin is now leading the nation proves that the most hope-filled event in mankind’s history is close. “What we are seeing in Russia ultimately leads to the transition from man ruling man to God ruling man!” he writes. “And it is almost here! It is just a few short years away.”