The Wages of the Toady

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Russian soldiers retreating from Ukraine to Belarus are selling goods that they have looted while fighting. They’re also filling up hospitals and, in some cases, overwhelming morgues in the former Soviet republic that lies to the north of Ukraine and to the west of Russia.

“They take the ‘trophies’ looted from Ukraine and offer to sell them to locals,” a man identified only as Ilya told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. “Refrigerators, household appliances, tires and whatever comes to hand.”

The anecdote symbolizes the two sides of Belarus’ involvement in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Russian soldiers are using Belarus as a staging ground for their attacks, explained National Public Radio. But their presence has revealed more than the strong ties of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko to Putin. It has also illustrated the failures of the Russian military as well as the weakness of Lukashenko’s regime itself.

Last year, demonstrators took to the streets of the Belarusian capital of Minsk to protest against Lukashenko’s overwhelming victory in the 2020 presidential election, which critics say was marked by fraud. Now, as Belarus sides with Russia, Western governments have imposed sanctions on the already impoverished country. Some experts are calling for still-harsher consequences.

Preexisting disgust with Lukashenko and fear over the repercussions of his alliance with Putin could push his regime to the breaking point, reported the Independent. Polls show that 55 percent of Belarusians oppose the war while nearly 100-percent of the county’s citizens do not want Lukashenko to deploy Belarusian troops across the border.

Those sentiments could explain why Lukashenko hasn’t compelled his forces to join the war, as American officials predicted he would in a CNN story last month. Spontaneous civil disobedience – think banners, murals and impromptu concerts – have been breaking out throughout the country despite the security forces’ threats of arrest and imprisonment, according to the New York Times.

When Belarusians have fought, they’ve done so on the Ukrainian side. The Washington Post wrote about hundreds of Belarusians who have joined the Kastus Kalinouski Battalion, a force named after a freedom fighter who led an insurrection against Russia in Belarus in the 1860s. After kicking the Russians out of Ukraine, they aim to take the fight to Lukashenko.

Belarusian hackers have also been working to undermine the Russian war effort, disabling train networks in their country, for example, to prevent Russian troop movements, Fast Company reported.

Lukashenko, like Putin, likely thought the invasion would be short and sweet. Now he’s an accomplice to war crimes. He’s reaping what he has sown.

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