What’s Behind Lukashenko’s Surprise Proposal for a Belarusian-Polish Rapprochement?

These pragmatic intentions are being made public at this particular time to exploit the opportunity presented by rapidly deteriorating economic and political ties between Poland and Ukraine. Zelensky is supposed to be a Polish ally and Lukashenko an enemy in the eyes of many Poles, yet the roles are now being reversed after the Belarusian leader just extended his olive branch. In the best-case scenario, this could reshape popular perceptions and facilitate Poland positively responding after fall’s elections.  

Background Briefings

Poland’s relations with Belarus and Ukraine have deteriorated in parallel with one another over the past month, which readers can learn more about here and here respectively. Regarding the first, an unprecedented military buildup is taking place along the Polish border on the pretext of responding to alleged threats from Wagner there. As for the second, these two are now embroiled in a self-sustaining cycle of economic and political disputes that shows no signs of ending anytime soon.

One would have thought that Polish-Ukrainian problems would be easier to resolve considering their shared grand strategic goal of “containing” Russia in NATO’s ongoing proxy war against it, but it turns out that Lukashenko just took the initiative by proposing a rapprochement with Poland on Friday. This caught everyone off guard after he earlier warned about Belgorod-like proxy incursions and the threats to his country’s security from any potential Polish military operation in Western Ukraine.

A Completely Unexpected Proposal

Here’s what publicly financed BelTA reported that he said when meeting with airport workers:

“Now we make money primarily in the East: in Russia, China. But we must not discard contacts with the high-tech West. They are nearby, the European Union is our neighbor. And we should maintain contacts with them. We are ready for this, but there should be due consideration for our interests. Believe me, the time will come (using your professional terms, I would say that now we are going through the period of turbulence), and in 2024-2025 there will be serious changes in the world.

And we need to talk to the Poles. I told the prime minister to contact them. If they want, we can talk, patch up our relations. We are neighbors, and this is something you cannot choose, neighbors are given by God. They are having parliamentary elections on 15 October, so they are trying to whip up tensions in order to prove that arming and re-arming the country was the right thing to do.

Therefore, before 15 October, they are unlikely to make any significant steps that will benefit them and us. They demand and ask a lot from us, but we cannot agree to this, because it is contrary to our interests. The Americans have staked on Poland. But the Poles are not stupid people. We are related people, the Slavs. They understand everything perfectly. Let’s wait and see. We are open for cooperation.”

His words will now be analyzed in the geostrategic context as well as the bilateral one with Poland.

The Path To Peace (Or At Least A Ceasefire)

The first part about “not discard[ing] contacts with the high-tech West” is pragmatic but also serves the political purpose of signaling that he has no threatening intentions towards those countries despite their unprovoked hostility against his own. In an ideal world, Belarus would function as a bridge between East and West just like Ukraine also could, but that’s unlikely to happen even if peace talks resume around year’s end or early next year since this would be against the US’ hegemonic interests in Europe.

Nevertheless, a de-escalation of NATO-Russian tensions – and thus by Belarus’ Union State association with Russia, NATO-Belarusian and Polish-Belarusian tensions – is inevitable after some time, hence why Lukashenko wanted to get ahead of the curve by messaging his pragmatic intentions far in advance. He made it clear, however, that any potential (and especially economically/technologically driven) improvement of ties with his Western neighbors won’t be at the expense of his country’s interests.

As for his prediction about “serious changes in the world” in 2024-2025, he’s likely referring to the Russian and US elections, the first of which is a forgone conclusion due to President Putin’s popularity while the second is too early to call. Even so, Russia’s lead in its “race of logistics”/“war of attrition” with NATO compels the Biden Administration to negotiate with Moscow before the elections or after them at the latest if it remains in power, while Republican frontrunner Trump said he’d end the conflict in a day.

Lukashenko Is Likely Acting With Putin’s Approval

The next part about Lukashenko tasking his Prime Minister with contacting the Poles to talk if they’re interested was almost certainly done with his Russian counterpart’s approval and possibly also at his suggestion after their latest meeting at the end of July. A unilateral outreach towards one of the world’s most Russophobic states could be interpreted as a betrayal of their shared Union State interests, which is why it’s extremely unlikely that he’d attempt anything of the sort without at least informing Russia first.

His speculation about the role that Poland’s mid-October national elections might have played in its latest saber-rattling has some merits since it’s indeed the case that the Polish ruling party wants to justify Warsaw’s exorbitant military expenditures and rally nationalists on an anti-Russian basis before the vote. That said, there’s also no denying that Wagner’s unexpected deployment to Belarus after its failed mutiny inadvertently served to provide the publicly plausible pretext for justifying this military buildup.

Moving along, it’s a positive sign that Lukashenko felt it appropriate to reaffirm that he’s not going to sacrifice his country’s objective interests for the sake of a lopsided rapprochement with Poland or any other Western country. His words preemptively discredit any speculation that he had nefarious motives in tasking his premier with reaching out to the Poles to explore a possible rapprochement. They also confirm that Warsaw is making unrealistic demands of Minsk like many already suspected.

The Indigenous Roots Of Polish Grand Strategy

The last part implying that the US is pulling Poland’s strings is debatable, however, since it’s arguably the case that this aspiring regional hegemon is acting in pursuit of its own interests that align with America’s and are fully supported by it but aren’t dictated by that country. Attributing every inconvenient development in any of the Union State’s bilateral relations to American meddling is as oversimplistic and inaccurate of an explanation behind events as America attributing the same to Russian meddling.

Poland envisages restoring its long-lost Great Power status through a post-modern revival of its Commonwealth with the Lublin Triangle of itself, Lithuania, and Ukraine as the military core and the “Three Seas Initiative” as its broader regional economic form. This grand strategic goal could be offset or placed under German control if the Berlin-backed opposition ousts the ruling party this fall, but it’s important for observers not to lose sight of the fact that it’s an indigenous Polish one, not a US strategy.

In brief, it has its roots in Marshal Pilsudski’s interwar “Intermarium” and “Prometheism” policies, which aimed to connect the region under Polish hegemony in parallel with “Balkanizing” the erstwhile USSR. After World War II resulted in Poland losing its eastern regions that it calls the “Kresy” (“borderlands”), which were disputed with Lithuania and the Soviet Union, their post-Old Cold War leadership began plotting how to regain their lost influence there, even if unofficially and through non-political forms.

Perception Management

It’s unclear whether Lukashenko and his Russian counterpart are aware of this reality or not, but suggesting that Poland’s latest saber-rattling is due to the US pulling its strings provides the domestically plausible explanation for them to engage in talks with Poland. Any progress on this front could be portrayed as Poland attempting to restore some of the sovereignty that it previously sold to the US for short-sighted Russophobic reasons instead of being spun by conspiracy-spewing critics as “selling out”.

There’d be a lot of truth to that first-mentioned portrayal of events too since the astronomical growth of Polish-US military-strategic ties occurred against the backdrop of increasingly tense political ones caused by American liberalglobalistsideologically driven hatred of Poland’s ruling quasi-conservatives. If the latter win re-election, and especially if they have to enter into a governing coalition with the rising anti-establishment Confederation party, then they might indeed act unilaterally in the region out of revenge.

Scenario Forecasting

In the worst-case scenario, this could take the form of de facto blockading Kaliningrad together with Lithuania on the pretext of defending from the alleged threat posed by Wagner in Belarus, which could occur before or after the elections but with the intent of sabotaging potential peace talks with Russia. In the best-case scenario, however, this could see Warsaw walk back its maximalist demands of Minsk and seriously explore a rapprochement of sorts with the Union State independent of the US’ interests.

To be absolutely clear so that nobody is confused about what’s being conveyed in this analysis and to discredit those who lie about what was written for whatever their malicious reasons may be, either scenario is precisely that, just a scenario. Neither can be taken for granted, especially not the second one, but the point in touching upon the latter is to explain what Lukashenko likely wants to achieve with President Putin’s approval. The odds of it happening are low, but it also can’t be ruled out either.

Having clarified that, any move in the direction of the best-case scenario would occur in pursuit of what the Polish leadership might by then have reconceptualized their national interests as being, not due to any Slavic solidarity like Lukashenko suggested. That last statement of his on this subject was probably intended for the domestic audience since most Poles regardless of political disposition consider themselves and their culture to be somewhat similar but nevertheless very distinct from Eastern Slavs’.

Concluding Thoughts

Reflecting on what was shared in this analysis, it compellingly appears as though Lukashenko’s surprise proposal for a Belarusian-Polish rapprochement was one of the topics that he discussed with President Putin during their latest meeting at the end of July. Even though their remarks at the time warned about the regional threat posed by Poland’s unprovoked and unprecedented military buildup along its eastern borders, it’s for that exactly reason why they would have likely explored a peaceful resolution too.

These pragmatic intentions are being made public at this particular time to exploit the opportunity presented by rapidly deteriorating economic and political ties between Poland and Ukraine. Zelensky is supposed to be a Polish ally and Lukashenko an enemy in the eyes of many Poles, yet the roles are now being reversed after the Belarusian leader just extended his olive branch. In the best-case scenario, this could reshape popular perceptions and facilitate Poland positively responding after fall’s elections.  

By Andrew Korybko
Source: Andrew Korybko

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