Whatever the truth behind the arrests of alleged Russian mercenaries in Belarus, the incident cannot fail to exacerbate the main problem in the relationship between Minsk and Moscow: a protracted crisis of trust.
Serbia’s authorities broke an old taboo when they blamed pro-Russian radicals for instigating some of the recent violence in the country, and Russia-Serbia relations may never be the same again.
Belarus is moving toward a new geopolitical identity. Instead of its status as a peacekeeper between East and West, Minsk may soon find that it lacks a good relationship with either side.
Moscow’s trump card in the Balkans is its right to veto Kosovo’s accession to the UN. A likely agreement between Serbia and Kosovo will leave Russia superfluous to requirements.
The steep economic downturn and pre-election repression in Belarus are not the most favorable backdrop for President Lukashenko’s reelection. It’s not entirely clear what resources—other than force—Lukashenko plans to rely on for his sixth presidential term.
Two figures from within the political establishment are set to challenge Alexander Lukashenko in the presidential election this summer, laying the ground for a shake-up of politics in Belarus.
Having closed the border, even for six weeks, Russia has taken yet another psychologically important step in the process of its estrangement from Belarus.
A row over energy prices is a sign that Belarus and Russia are set to have a cooler and more pragmatic relationship. Over the next few years, Minsk is likely to build a more balanced relationship with the West and Moscow, like that of Armenia or Kazakhstan.
Belarus’s resolution to become less dependent on Russian oil has nothing to do with its economy. Minsk is making a political statement with the aim of depriving Moscow of one of its main bargaining chips in their relationship.
So long as Serbia does not formally recognize Kosovo’s independence, it must rely on Russia’s veto power in the UN Security Council. That dependency gives Russia a nontrivial degree of influence, both in the region and within Serbia itself.