Allies in the Chamber: Threats, Nuclear Blackmail, and Lukashenkо’s “Service” in the Kremlin’s Information Forces

The current political situation in Belarus is a cause for serious concern in Europe. The country, which sits at the crossroads between Russia and Europe, is in the spotlight due to its ties to Russia, the rise of the Wagnerites, and its acquisition of nuclear weapons.

During the meeting between Russian President Putin and Belarusian President Lukashenko, discussions about the presence of “Wagner” mercenaries in Belarus unveiled new security risks for Europe and Ukraine.

Understanding the strategic narratives surrounding the Belarusian bridgehead of Russian aggression is thus relevant for further forecasting the development of events in the region.

Propaganda hub of the Union State

In a meeting between Putin and Lukashenko on July 23, 2023, Lukashenko told how the “Wagner” mercenaries are eager for an “excursion to Warsaw.” Russian mercenaries, financed from the Russian budget and who attempted a state coup, are now stationed in Belarus and pose a serious threat to the NATO-member country. So, what side will come out on top if the threat materializes?

“Lukashenko said that the fighters of “Wagner” want to go to the West.”

The “Union State” of Russia and Belarus, within the framework of which additional security and economic cooperation are allegedly being formed, poses a threat to Ukraine and other European countries, as both regimes have repeatedly proven. However, these threats relate to Russia’s use of Belarus as a military base and a separate “propaganda hub.” And this “hub,” as you know, was significantly strengthened by Russian cadres after Lukashenko finally seized power amid protests over the falsification of the results of the 2020 presidential election.

Threats and nuclear blackmail

In the context of Russia’s full-scale war on Ukraine, the “alliance” of the two dictatorial regimes devolved into constant attempts to involve Belarus directly in the war. Lukashenko, along with elite politicians and Belarusian “journalists,” consistently propagated fabricated Russian narratives under the Kremlin’s directives, specifically concerning crucial elements of the war. Now, we are witnessing the emergence of a new stage of information warfare pushed by the ‘Belarusian’ hub of Kremlin propaganda with threats aimed at the West, with Poland in the first line of fire.

“They are trying to drag Belarus into the war, with Poland trying especially hard.”

Alexander Lukashenko is an instrument of Russian propaganda, which in Russia itself is voiced only by the most radical adepts of the Russian world, such as Dmitry Medvedev. Therefore, Russia’s information forces entrust Lukashenko with more than just the title of nominal leader of the country. After all, direct threats to European countries are necessary for the Kremlin to raise the stakes, blackmail, and influence political decisions, which is the primary goal of Russian propaganda.

Lukashenko’s regime exhibits a facade of “independence” in decision-making while the reality suggests a dependence on Russian influence. When examining the Belarusian information space shaped by Russian propagandists, this aspect deserves due consideration.

Therefore, the aforemention listed circumstances indicate that such statements are coordinated with the Kremlin and are an element of Russian propaganda’s general strategy. The principal role of the “Belarusian hub” of propagandists within the Kremlin is to mimic the “independent” narrative propagated by the Belarusian “president” while also intimidating European countries that express solidarity with Ukraine.

Olga Skabeeva (Russian propagandist and TV presenter) with Alexander Lukashenko (June 2023)

This is also evidenced by Russian media’s spreading of Lukashenko’s quote regarding the unconditional use of nuclear weapons without having to consult with Moscow. Thus, nuclear blackmail is another propaganda direction that strengthens Lukashenka’s regime.

“The algorithm for using nuclear weapons is based on the assumption that we will use them if we are attacked and face a critical threat. Therefore, they will attack, as they have already begun to say in Russia, the Union State.”

Alexsandr Lukashenko

“Lukashenko promises to use nuclear weapons if aggression is taken against Belarus.”

“Russian Defense Minister Shoigu: control over Russia’s nuclear weapons stationed in Belarus remains with Moscow.”

Preparation for another provocation?

The situation with the integration of Belarus into Russia, the placement of nuclear weapons, and the presence of “Wagnerians” in Belarus increases the threat not only to the security of Ukraine but also creates tension on the borders of Belarus with Poland and Lithuania.

Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine from the north has already had severe consequences for Ukraine’s defense. The fact that Russia has freely used Belarusian territory to attack the northern regions underscores the validity of concerns raised by European partners regarding Lukashenko’s statements. This indicates a strategy employed by the Kremlin rather than genuine threats from Belarusian authorities.

Immediately following the aftermath of the unsuccessful mutiny orchestrated by Prigozhin, Russian propaganda swiftly attempted to spread the idea that the uprising was fabricated, serving only to transfer the “Wagner” PMC to Belarus and restore the northern front. Consequently, the narratives introduced into the information space through the Belarusian regime may potentially signify the groundwork for another provocation.

Why should Europe be worried?

The planned involvement of Belarus in the war and its use as a “proxy” to create a threat to the West, poses unique challenges for Ukraine and neighboring countries, primarily for the Baltic countries and Poland. Propagandists cultivate historical revanchism, and thus threaten neighbouring NATO countries.

“Lukashenko warned: Belarus got into a decent fight, and Poland will throw up problems.”

“All the Dudas and other evil spirits will disappear,” Medvedev explained the dangers of deploying nuclear weapons in Poland.”

Dmitry Medvedev, Deputy Chairman of the Security Council of the Russian Federation

In this context, it is worth recalling the migration crisis on the Polish-Belarusian border, inspired by the Lukashenka regime. In November 2021, columns of migrants, mainly from the countries of the Middle East, flooded toward the Polish and Lithuanian borders. The leadership of Poland and Lithuania, and then NATO, accused the Kremlin and its puppet Lukashenko of launching a hybrid attack on the borders of the EU. 

However, even then, Lukashenko’s rhetoric was a litmus test for understanding what the Kremlin wanted. The Kremlin, then, attempted to force the EU to take to the negotiating table. Today, the same technology is being deployed, albeit on an agenda of a different nature.

Methodology in Belarusian

Russia is attempting to create informational pretexts and force the EU to buckle to the Kremlin’s whims. 

Indeed, Russia’s hybrid warfare approach involves leveraging the situation in Belarus to advance its demands, creating a focal point of tension within the region, where Belarus is effectively under Russian control

The Kremlin presents the Belarusian regime as a possible “mediator” of security processes, if you will, a kind of “Minsk guarantor,” and the fabricated crisis with the “Wagnerians” for intimidating purposes, aimed to decrease aid to Ukraine provided by Poland and Lithuania.

Most of the threats broadcast in the Russian media currently remain in the headlines of news publications. Still, we can identify several potential scenarios for the development of events:

  1. The status quo. The situation remains under control; there are no provocations, and threats remain threats.
  2. Provocative activity. Border provocations may occur, but instead of migrants, we will already see “Wagnerians” who will try to carry out illegal border crossings, but all within the limits of unconventional threats from the Russian Federation and the Republic of Belarus.
  3. Military operation. There is a potential attempt to use Wagner mercenaries to cross the border in the Suvalki Corridor region or territories close to Russia and Belarus in Latvia. Instead, it would be an operation conducted with no specific affiliation or flag indicating their identity or purpose, coupled with a lack of any formal announcement or disclosure regarding the underlying motives behind these actions.

Thus, monitoring political statements in the Belarusian information space echoes Russia’s real motives in the European region.