- Russia plans to take over its neighbor Belarus, according to a leaked document from Putin’s office.
- The plan is to create a “union state” led by Russia by 2030, the document says.
- The move would remove Belarus’ autonomy and bring Russia closer to more NATO countries.
Russia plans to take over ally and neighbor Belarus by 2030, according to a leaked document from President Vladimir Putin’s executive office, obtained by a group of European journalists from outlets across the continent.
The internal strategy document lays out how Russia plans to get rid of what remains of Belarus’ independence over a years-long plan.
This would involve gradually creating stronger pro-Russia sentiment, expanding Russia’s military presence there, and making it easier for citizens to get Russian passports. The ultimate goal is to create a common “union state” that is under Russian leadership, it said.
The document was obtained by outlets including Yahoo News, Sweden’s Expressen newspaper, Germany’s Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper, and Ukraine’s Kyiv Independent newspaper.
It dates from late 2021, according to Yahoo News, which did not report any signs that Russia’s strategy has changed since.
It’s not clear if Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has interfered with the plan at all.
Belarus is already seen as a Russian puppet state, and the country’s president, Alexander Lukashenko, is considered one of Putin’s closest ally.
But the plans outlined in the document would more formally tie Belarus to Russia, and erase any of the markings of independence that the country currently has.
The document gives a timeline for Russia’s plan.
By 2022, it advocates for the “formation of pro-Russian sentiments in political and military elites and the population” as well as “limiting the influence of ‘nationalist’ and pro-Western forces in Belarus,” and changes to Belarus’ constitution to be more pro-Russia.
Belarus has made progress on this. A February 2022 referendum removed the country’s non-nuclear status, with the vote seen as a sham by the West and a concession to Putin.
Russia has also expanded its military presence in the country, both in the run up to and during its invasion of Ukraine, which started in February 2022.
Ukraine and the West fear Belarus’ army could eventually join in Russia’s fight.
By 2025, the document says, there should also be a bigger Russian military presence in Belarus, an easier way for Belarusian citizens to get Russian passports, and a “sustainable pro-Russian groups of influence in Belarusian politics, military and business,” according to Yahoo News.
And by 2030 Russia should have “control of the information space” in Belarus, it reported.
This strategy matches what Russia has been doing in Ukraine.
In parts of Ukraine that it has occupied, Russia has sought to scrub any signifiers of Ukrainian life and culture, including introducing Russian passports and money, replacing Ukrainian politicians with Russia-backed figures, and removing Ukrainian textbooks.
Michael Carpenter, the US ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, told Yahoo News that “Russia’s goals with regards to Belarus are the same as with Ukraine.”
“Only in Belarus, it relies on coercion rather than war. Its end goal is still wholesale incorporation,” he added.
Svetlana Tsikhanovskaya, the Belarusian opposition leader who is living in exile in Lithuania, told Yahoo News that “the ‘Union State’ is a threat for the Belarusian people and Belarusian statehood.”
She added: “It is not a union of equals. It is a roadmap for the absorption of Belarus by Russia.”