Policy Report: How Russia’s War on Ukraine Can Impact Belarus – 3 Scenarios

A scenario-based report on Belarus' near future, in partnership with the German Marshal Fund of the United States

19 July 2023

The war in Ukraine has a clear impact on Belarus, even if the Lukashenka regime has not extended support to Russia’s aggression by sending troops. How Ukraine’s ongoing counter-offensive plays out could alter the political dynamics in Belarus.

This paper is co-sponsored by Visegrad Insight – Res Publica Foundation and The German Marshall Fund of the United States under ReThink.CEE Fellowship Programme. Among others, it reflects a foresight session organised with stakeholders on 28 June 2023.


  • In whichever direction Russia’s war on Ukraine evolves, it will have enduring effects on the political dynamics in Belarus for the regime, pro-democracy forces and public opinion. It will also impact Western policy toward the country. The period between September 2023 – when the outcome of Kyiv’s counter-offensive will be clear – and the February 2024 elections will be crucial. This brief presents scenarios and recommendations for the pro-democracy forces and the West.
  • In the first scenario, Russia escalates the conflict in Ukraine, with Belarus participating directly in the war. This leads to some divisions among regime elites, but the pro-democracy forces become more marginalised. Public opinion is predominantly against direct military involvement, while Belarus becomes further isolated internationally.
  • In the second scenario, the war continues with no major changes, with Belarus in a supporting role. The regime’s dependence on Russia deepens, further undermining Belarus’s sovereignty and autonomy. The pro-democracy forces face more internal divisions while public opinion increasingly leans toward no war involvement. Some Western voices call for re-engaging with the regime.
  • In the third scenario, Russia faces defeat, and its influence on Belarus weakens. The regime intensifies repression while elites reassess their loyalty to Lukashenka. The pro-democracy forces are invigorated, leading to increased engagement with the public. Domestic scepticism of Lukashenka’s alignment with Russia grows, as does the West’s attention to Belarus.


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Belarus is grappling with the most significant political crisis in its recent history, triggered by the fraudulent presidential election in 2020. It has experienced widespread protests and a severe crackdown on the pro-democracy forces – and active participation in Russia’s war against Ukraine since the full-scale invasion of February 2022. As these trends unfold, Belarus faces complex challenges that will shape its future.

Whichever direction Russia’s war against Ukraine evolves will have enduring effects on Belarus. This brief presents three scenarios to show how this could play out in the short term. These are built on two stages. The first envisages three ways in which the war could evolve until September 2023 when the outcomes of Ukraine’s counter-offensive will become clear and the extent of Belarus’s involvement in the war too.

These three possible war situations provide the starting point for the second stage. This envisages how each would influence the political dynamics in Belarus up to February 2024, when parliamentary elections are due. The scenarios focus on the regime elites, the pro-democracy forces, public opinion and Western policy.


The War Situation

To date, Russia has failed to achieve its major military objectives in Ukraine. But, despite already engaging a significant portion of its available military capacity, it still possesses enough resources to sustain the war. The Russian population has exhibited a pervasive indifference toward the war despite battlefield losses, partial mobilisation and a deteriorating economy.

In contrast, Ukraine has had considerable successes in pushing back Russian troops from territories occupied in 2022, notably the liberation of Kherson. It launched its latest counteroffensive in the early summer of 2023 (at the time of writing in the Bakhmut area, the Donetsk-Zaporizhia Oblast border area and Zaporizhia Oblast).

Belarus has avoided direct participation in the war so far, and there is no clear indication that Russia has demanded such a commitment. But it has provided military equipment to Russian troops, facilitated their transportation into northern Ukraine and allowed Russian missile and air strikes to be conducted from its territory.

The Russian presence in Belarus has been expanding. In June, the regime ratified an agreement for joint training centres in the country. Minsk and Moscow have also signed agreements to prepare for the deployment of Russian tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, which will necessitate significant Russian military infrastructure and Russian control over elements of the country’s armed forces. The possibility of fully opening a northern front to attack Ukraine remains a significant factor in Russia’s military thinking.

The possible relocation of Russian Wagner mercenaries, led by their chief, Yevgeny Prigozhin, in Belarus following their brief mutiny in June could be an important development. Recent satellite imagery suggests active construction on the Wagner base in Asipovichy in central Belarus. If Wagner establishes itself in the country, Lukashenka is likely to try to leverage this to gain manoeuvring space in his relations with the Kremlin.

The Regime

Lukashenka’s regime has been in a deep domestic crisis since the fraudulent presidential election of 2020. Despite widespread protests, it has held on to power through repressive measures and its alliance with Russia. The regime continues to escalate its crackdown on real and perceived dissent while promoting Russification across various aspects of life. As of 4 July 2023, there were 1,497 political prisoners, according to the Viasna Human Rights Centre. Civil society organisations have been systematically targeted, and online platforms, including administrators and followers of Telegram channels, have faced intense persecution.

Neither the 2020 uprising nor the war in Ukraine led to a significant rupture within the regime elite. While there may be among them anti-war sentiments and support for alternative approaches to political governance and foreign policy, most security and economic elites have stuck with their decision in 2020 to stick with Lukashenka or to wait and see how things unfold.

However, increased political and economic dependence on the Kremlin has weakened Lukashenka’s monopoly on contacts with Russia. As Belarusian enterprises seek alternatives to compensate for markets lost due to sanctions and the war, they have explored new partnerships in Russia. Cooperation between the countries’ intelligence and security services has flourished, with joint operations in Russia and coordination during the Kremlin’s mobilisation efforts.

The regime is grappling with economic decline but has adapted to the Western sanctions. Between January and February 2022 and 2023, real GDP declined by 5% and 1.9%, respectively. To mitigate the impact of international isolation and the loss of the Ukrainian market, the regime seeks ways to bypass sanctions and diversify its economic partners. Lukashenka has travelled to China, the United Arab Emirates and Zimbabwe to that end, but the impact of this will likely be very insignificant. In addition, the challenges of an ageing population and of mass emigration – including the departure of almost entire industries, such as IT – have had a significant impact on the labour market. This trend is expected to persist and worsen.

The Pro-Democracy Forces

The pro-democracy forces have had significant success in expanding their international presence through bilateral and multilateral engagements since 2020. The 2020 presidential candidate Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya has met with numerous world leaders, solidifying her recognition as the national leader of Belarus. To further undermine the legitimacy of the regime on the global stage, the pro-democracy forces have established representations in Brussels, Prague and Kyiv. These are platforms for enhanced visibility, fostering connections with international partners and engaging with the diaspora across Europe. In response to Lukashenka’s reduction of Belarus’s diplomatic presence in Tallinn, Estonia’s government appointed a representative to Tsikhanouskaya’s office. Despite the challenges in relations with Ukraine, there have been positive developments recently. Tsikhanouskaya had a brief first meeting with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Germany in May 2023. That same month, she led a Belarusian delegation to the Council of Europe’s summit in Reykjavik. The EU launched the EU-Belarus Consultative Group in June 2023 to maintain a constructive dialogue with the opposition and civil society.

The pro-democracy forces have restructured themselves since 2022, notably with the establishment of the United Transitional Cabinet after the New Belarus conference in August 2022. This included the incorporation of critical voices and representatives for security in response to supporters’ demands for more assertive actions. But, despite these efforts, divisions continue to affect the pro-democracy forces. One potentially important new element in this landscape is the emergence of a political actor of the Kalinoŭski Regiment that is fighting against Russia alongside Ukrainian forces. Relations between it and the pro-democracy forces have swung between cooperation and tension.

Reaching out effectively to the population in Belarus remains a significant challenge for the pro-democracy forces. The combination of the regime’s control over the media and communication channels, as well as the challenges of mobilising and engaging a diverse population, remains a major obstacle to conveying democratic messages and gaining widespread support inside the country.

Public Opinion

As the political crisis continues, Belarusian society remains polarised between, supporters and opponents of the regime, with a majority wanting change. Since 2020, some trends have been clear. First, there is still a prevailing sense of dissatisfaction regarding the state and its relationship with the people. The demand for change and support for reforms remains significant and expressed by a majority. Second, the war amplified the desire for peace and neutrality, leading to a slight increase in the public’s confidence in the regime for not getting directly militarily involved in the war. Third, against the backdrop of ongoing repression, there is a noticeable trend of depoliticisation among Belarusians inside the country, where political engagement and activism are being stifled.

The series of Chatham House polls conducted among urban residents from 2022 to 2023 revealed a strong negative sentiment regarding Belarus’s involvement in the war, with over 80% consistently rejecting military engagement. In 2022, they also had a majority saying the war had negative consequences for Belarus. In the March 2023 poll, over 40% expressed opposition to the activities of the Russian army in Belarus. Public opinion is also overwhelmingly against the deployment of Russian nuclear weapons, with over 70% of respondents in this latest poll saying this was unacceptable. In a poll conducted by the Belarusian sociologist Philipp Bikanau in March and May 2023, fewer than 15% of respondents supported the idea of Belarusian troops participating in the war.

However, public opinion is also divided over the war itself, somewhat matching the differences in the media sources people use. The Chatham House poll from January-February 2023 showed the existence of two informational echo chambers, with 35% of the population relying on state-controlled television as their primary source of information and 20% relying on non-state sources (26% consuming both). In the March 2023 poll, 44% of respondents said they did not support Russia’s war, while 33% said they did. Media consumption also influences perceptions of the war’s progress, with state-controlled media consumers tending to idealise Russia’s role and believing that it is achieving its objectives.

The International Dimension

The war has exacerbated Lukashenka’s struggle to overcome his international isolation and non-recognition since 2020. Allowing Russia to use Belarusian territory for attacks on Ukraine and the movement of Russian troops has raised concerns in the West about his agency and control. Nevertheless, Lukashenka still places great importance on recognition and re-engagement by the West, and he continues to seek ways to expand contacts with it as well as proposing Belarus as a venue for mediation between Russia and Ukraine, as it was prior to 2020.

However, Western countries have maintained a steadfast policy and a united front in their non-recognition of Lukashenka’s regime since 2020 (with the exception of Hungary). This has been driven by condemnation of the regime’s ongoing brutal post-election crackdown on dissent and its war involvement. The European Union has been at the forefront of imposing sanctions on Belarus. Since October 2020, it has adopted five packages of sanctions, which target 195 individuals and 34 entities linked to the regime. However, the EU has been reluctant to increase the sanctions since the full-scale invasion of Ukraine: the last time it imposed new ones was in June 2022. This indicates a hesitancy to intensify pressure on the regime unless there is a significant escalation in its involvement in the war.

The West has also continued to engage with and support the pro-democracy forces. Given Belarus’s support for Russia’s war, many exiles faced uncertainty regarding their residency or refugee status, access to educational opportunities and visa options following the full-scale invasion. Partly in response to lobbying efforts by the pro-democracy forces, some restrictive policies have been reversed, which has positively impacted ordinary Belarusians.



1: Belarus Is Pulled Into Russia’s War Escalation

Key Features

  • Russia escalates the conflict in Ukraine with Belarusian forces participating directly
  • Direct military involvement leads to some divisions among regime elites
  • Belarus’s pro-democracy forces become more marginalised
  • Public opinion is predominantly against direct military involvement
  • Belarus becomes further isolated internationally

Evolution of the War

Ukraine’s summer counter-offensive has had some success, but it has not driven Russian troops out of all its territory, including Crimea. Russia launches another large military push in eastern Ukraine and fully opens a second front that brings Belarus into the war. Belarusian troops enter and fight in Ukraine as part of a joint “regional military group” with Russian soldiers, which was activated in 2022 under Russian command.

The regime portrays this as a defensive measure to protect Belarusian interests and support its ally. Members of the armed forces deployed to Ukraine face the possibility of combat against the Belarusians who have been fighting against Russia there. Some soldiers deployed to Ukraine defect to the side of these compatriots. Others desert and try to flee abroad. The escalated fighting threatens to spill over into Belarus.

Impact on the Regime Elites

Unlike during the major protests in 2020, Lukashenka’s inability to prevent Belarus from being pulled into direct military participation in the war exacerbates discontent within the regime elites, resulting in divisions among them. The position of the “power” bloc – including the hawks who reportedly advocated for this since the February 2022 invasion, such as Secretary of the State Security Council Aliaksandr Valfovich and Chairman of the State Security Committee Ivan Tsertsel – is strengthened. But direct military participation also generates discontent among members of the regime who are against this.

As Belarus faces additional subsequent Western sanctions and economic difficulties, business and security elites seek closer ties and direct contact with Russia to mitigate the impact. With their existing connections, they undermine Lukashenka’s monopoly over ties with Russia and try to assert greater influence over the regime’s decision-making.

Belarus’s direct military participation in the war does not increase the probability of a palace coup attempt against Lukashenka, but the existence of some regime opposition to it threatens his position. Some elites even reach out quietly to the opposition. In response, Lukashenka removes from key positions individuals who express dissent or question his approach to the war. The lead-up to the parliamentary elections in February 2024 sees the regime eliminate remaining opposition groups, including political parties.

Impact on the Pro-Democracy forces

Support in Belarus for the pro-democracy forces declines further. Having largely focused on gaining international support, there is nothing Tsikhanouskaya and her United Transitional Cabinet can do to obstruct the entry into the war. Combined with the fact, that the pro-democracy forces have been fragmenting since shortly after the repression of the protest movement in 2021, this alienates some of the Belarusian supporters of Tsikhanouskaya and her team abroad as well.

Belarus’s direct military participation in the war presents a new challenge for the pro-democracy forces, which have long stressed distinguishing between the regime and the people. Belarusian troops fighting in Ukraine makes it more difficult to keep pushing this message abroad.

The Belarusians fighting against Russia in Ukraine emerge further as an alternative opposition actor with political claims. They have strained relations with Tsikhanouskaya’s office, and the deployment of regime troops to Ukraine strengthens their position. There are more calls for violent resistance to the regime by parts of the opposition, building on the earlier growing demand for more resolute actions. The opposition seeks to establish better contacts with and mobilise support for the Belarusians fighting against Russia in Ukraine.

The pro-democracy forces face considerable challenges in preparing for the 2024 parliamentary elections due to further restrictions on any mobilising activities, making it difficult to come up with any effective plan.

Impact on Public Opinion

The regime struggles to hide the human cost of the war, and anti-war sentiment remains deeply rooted in society. The casualties among the troops participating in the war reduce the popularity of the regime among Lukashenka’s supporters, who widely share the general anti-war sentiment. However, this does not cause another wave of mass demonstrations, given the level of ongoing repression since 2020 and the emigration of many opposition and democratic activists. At the same time, the power and influence of the regime’s power bloc in quelling dissent grows.

Until the summer of 2023, the majority of Belarusians maintained largely benign attitudes toward Russia. However, direct military participation in the war, coupled with the significant casualties suffered, intensifies criticism of Russia.

Impact on Western Policy

The West imposes new sanctions on the regime, adding to those in place since 2020. It further isolates Lukashenka diplomatically, putting additional pressure on Minsk. Having until then taken a cautious approach toward Lukashenka and maintained economic ties with Belarus, Ukraine severs relations.

There is a new wave of refugees from Ukraine and Belarus. This puts additional strain on some EU members who relegate Belarusian refugees much lower on the agenda. Direct military participation intensifies the shift to a less supportive attitude toward Belarus and its people and their isolation from the West.

The situation of the pro-democracy exiles worsens. The West becomes even more focused on Ukraine and less committed to supporting them. This poses a challenge for Tsikhanouskaya and her team as assistance to Belarusians abroad is one key tangible outcome they secured.

Short-Term Priorities for the Pro-Democracy Forces

  • Engage trusted intermediaries, and seek help from Western intelligence services, to try to establish covert channels of communication with lower-level political elites to capitalise on anti-war sentiments and growing dissent within the regime.
  • Establish an umbrella support unit across the pro-democracy forces to coordinate more acquisition and delivery of essential non-weapons supplies to the Belarusians fighting Russia in Ukraine, to arrange the evacuation and medical treatment for injured ones, and to arrange fundraising initiatives for them.
  • Enhance collaboration with established Belarusian humanitarian initiatives and NGOs to strengthen their capacity to provide comprehensive support to additional Belarusian refugees as well as to support humanitarian efforts in Ukraine.

Short-Term Priorities for the West

  • Reiterate and keep advocating a clear and unequivocal policy of still differentiating between the people of Belarus and the Lukashenka regime, while condemning and sanctioning Belarus’s direct military involvement in the war.
  • Extend intelligence assistance to the pro-democracy forces and provide any additional essential non-weapons supplies they request for the Belarusians fighting Russia in Ukraine.
  • Include Belarus in the mandate of all efforts at setting up an international tribunal or other accountability mechanism to investigate, document and prosecute war crimes committed by Russia during the war in Ukraine.


Key Features

  • Russia’s war against Ukraine continues as before, with Belarus in a supporting role
  • The regime’s dependence on Russia deepens, further undermining Belarus’s sovereignty and autonomy
  • The pro-democracy forces face internal divisions
  • Public opinion leans increasingly toward non-involvement in the war
  • Some Western voices call for re-engaging with the regime

Evolution of the War

Ukraine’s counter-offensive has had some successes, but overall progress in reclaiming the occupied territories remains slow and challenging. The situation on the ground is not radically changed. Russia shows no sign of dropping its war aims, but it is unable to make significant advances further into Ukraine. Its forces conduct more ground attacks in eastern Ukraine, with limited success. The intensity of the war fluctuates, and neither side is ready to back down or negotiate. Belarus continues to be a transit point for Russian military equipment as well as to offer technical and medical support to Russian troops when necessary. But it does not increase its role or send troops to Ukraine.

Impact on Regime Elites

The status quo in Belarus’s involvement in the war does not result in any significant division among the regime elites. However, some of its members begin to question the continued help to Russia’s war effort, primarily due to concerns over the deteriorating economy and the impact of sanctions. The regime’s dependence on Russia for economic and political support and information resources deepens. This further erodes Belarus’s sovereignty and autonomy. The regime does not give up on its attempts to resume dialogue with the West. It repeats its calls for another round of negotiations in Minsk to seek an end to the war.

The regime continues to suppress any dissent. It uses the narrative of its perceived restraint in military involvement in the war to shore up public support and loyalty among the elites. It adopts a relatively low-key approach to the coming parliamentary elections in February 2024, aiming to hold them without extensive campaigns or much publicity, in order to limit the opportunities for political mobilisation.

Impact on the Pro-Democracy forces

The trend of fragmentation of the pro-democracy forces continues, with some groups questioning the legitimacy of others and different factions pursuing their own paths. This further undermines their credibility and further redirects their energy toward resolving internal disputes rather than fighting against the regime. Despite these disagreements, Tsikhanouskaya remains the pro-democracy forces’ central figure, speaking on behalf of the Belarusian people in the international arena and still drawing on her legitimacy from the 2020 presidential election. The pro-democracy forces try to devise a strategy to use the parliamentary elections as a new opportunity for mobilisation, but they struggle to do so.

The pro-democracy forces continue to seek international support but have limited engagement with Ukraine’s government. Kyiv maintains a pragmatic stance toward the regime and sees the pro-democracy forces as having limited influence in the country, which hampers the development of cooperation building on low-level contacts. The pro-democracy forces continue with some success to stress to Western audiences the distinction between the Belarusian people and the Lukashenka regime.

Impact on Public Opinion

The public’s wish for quietude and neutrality in the context of the war keeps growing. As the fighting drags on, those inside Belarus who oppose the war and support Ukraine feel increasingly powerless. Many further distance themselves from the war and the political crisis in the country. Those who support Russia also remain opposed to Belarus becoming militarily involved in the war. Lukashenka’s continued avoidance of directly involving the country reinforces the belief among his supporters that he is the best guarantor of peace.

Public opinion remains polarised between favouring Russia or Ukraine as Belarusians in the country are exposed to Russian propaganda and further isolated from alternative sources of information despite the widespread use of social media.

Attempts by individuals or small groups to express opposition to involvement in the war or to call for disengagement continue. But there are no large, organised protests despite dissatisfaction among the population, and the regime keeps using its repressive tactics to quell any dissent.

Impact on Western Policy

Some Western voices advocate re-engagement with the regime, conditioned on the release of political prisoners, something that parts of the pro-democracy forces have called for since 2021. Capitalising on his non-escalation stance, Lukashenka presents himself as a peacemaker to the West. However, the West continues to see his regime as not truly autonomous from Russia and is not interested in a significant re-engagement on this basis.

The fragmented pro-democracy forces continue to try delegitimising the regime on the international stage, but they encounter more difficulty in effectively influencing Western policy. The West continues to support them, albeit while making clear that Ukraine is its overwhelming priority. The international engagement of Tsikhanouskaya and her team continues, but the reception it receives tends to be lower than in the first year after the 2020 presidential election.

Short-Term Priorities for the Pro-Democracy Forces

  • Establish a department in the United Transitional Cabinet to tackle disinformation and the digital resilience of the pro-democracy forces. It should collaborate with the Belarusian and international IT community to develop new strategies to overcome the information blockade in Belarus and to prevent the penetration of the pro-democracy forces by regime actors leading to leaks of sensitive information, which has bad consequences for people and alienates supporters.
  • Develop and implement measures for improving the cohesiveness of the pro-democracy forces, such as workshops, retreats, and training sessions aimed at resolving conflicts among them, enhancing internal communication skills, keeping differences out of the public sphere and fostering coalition building.
  • Strengthen the People’s Embassies and Consulates of Belarus, and open new ones in more countries, as alternative national representations, as well as advocate more for replacing regime representatives in international formats with those of the United Transitional Cabinet.

Short-Term Priorities for the West

  • Continue the policy of non-recognition of and non-engagement with Lukashenka’s regime, and clearly rule out accepting any ideas or agreements proposed by the regime, such as a Minsk III format to end the war.
  • Increase existing forms of support to Belarusian exiles, including former political prisoners and their families, including financial assistance, legal aid, facilitating visa processes, and funding rehabilitation programmes.
  • Work toward establishing an independent tribunal to investigate and prosecute crimes against humanity committed by Lukashenka’s regime against the Belarusian people during his entire time in power, ensuring that its jurisdiction is not constrained by the regime’s failure to ratify applicable conventions or recognise the ipso facto jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice.


Key Features

  • Russia faces defeat in the war, and its influence on Belarus weakens
  • The regime intensifies repression while elites reassess their loyalty to Lukashenka
  • The pro-democracy forces are invigorated, leading to increased engagement with the public
  • The public’s scepticism of Lukashenka’s alignment with Russia grows
  • The West’s attention toward Belarus increases, but its primary focus remains Ukraine

Evolution of the War

Ukraine’s counter-offensive has been successful; it de-occupies more territories and looks able to retake Crimea. Faced with a more motivated and better trained and equipped adversary, Russian troops keep suffering large losses. The number of operations inside Russia by Ukrainian forces and anti-regime Russian groups increases. Russia deploys more troops and resources to salvage the situation, but this only increases the human and material costs of the war for itself. The Kremlin risks complete defeat.

Russia and Belarus call for new Minsk-format negotiations on the condition that Russia retains Crimea and the four other regions it has illegally annexed. Still, Ukraine and the West are not interested. This also faces resistance from radicalised Russian groups. The regime is unsure whether to continue supporting Russia. It cannot completely distance itself as it is highly dependent on its close ally, and Lukashenka has fully supported the invasion, even without direct military participation. Belarus keeps providing logistical and medical support to the Russian military.

Impact on the Regime Elites

Russia no longer has the resources to prop up Lukashenka as it did in 2020 and reconsiders its economic support. With Lukashenka weakened, the regime increases its violent repression of opposition supporters. It becomes even more reliant on the security forces to stay in control and eliminate dissent.

Lukashenka tries to play on anti-war and anti-militaristic sentiments in society to discourage political activism and solidify his hold on power. The regime engages in provocations and actions – like in 2020 when it claimed to have detained Wagner mercenaries allegedly trying to destabilise the country on the eve of the election – to create the perception of resisting Russian influence, positioning Lukashenka as a defender of Belarus’s sovereignty while emphasising the threat posed by Russia to justify its actions. The regime event starts raising the prospect of martial law.

The regime elites start to question their assumptions about Russia’s power and the reliability of their alliance with it. Having stuck with Lukashenka since 2020 because they were convinced of the strength of his backers in the Kremlin, they now face a dilemma about whether to continue supporting him. Realising the potential consequences of Russia’s defeat in the war, some regime elites try to engage with the opposition, seeking to find a way out of the crisis and to ensure stability as well as their own interests. But it remains difficult for the many officials who have been complicit in the crimes committed after the 2020 election to consider turning against Lukashenka as this will put them at risk of a regime backlash or of prosecution after a transition or abroad if they leave the country.

Impact on the Pro-Democracy forces

Russia’s defeats in Ukraine reinvigorate the pro-democracy forces, which see an opportunity to mobilise public opinion against the regime. The various opposition groups, including Tsikhanouskaya’s team and the Belarusian fighters in Ukraine, step up their efforts to engage with the people in Belarus and to garner support from the West. To facilitate this, they increase their efforts to build more secure online platforms for communication while leveraging clandestine networks within the country. New opposition groups and individuals start emerging through online platforms or as part of smaller groups. This, alongside growing dissent and a public opinion more critical of Lukashenka’s alignment with Russia, opens the possibility of a turning point for the pro-democracy forces.

The pro-democracy forces try to exert more effective pressure on the regime, but the different factions struggle to come up with a clear, unified plan of action. Some advocate solely nonviolent means of resistance, while others join hands with the Belarusian fighters in Ukraine for more direct action. The fighters view Russia’s defeats as an opportunity for the war to spill over into Belarus, leading to the regime’s fall. The pro-democracy forces see the 2024 parliamentary elections as an opportunity for mobilising the population again, although they struggle to come up with an effective strategy.

Impact on Public Opinion

Public opinion becomes more critical of Belarus’s alignment with Russia and begins to question its benefits. People no longer see the regime’s alliance with the Kremlin as reliable and stable. More Belarusians want their country to withdraw any support for Russia’s military campaign, due to the potential further negative consequences. The regime’s dependence on Russia makes it impossible to distance itself completely from the war, and the public becomes more critical of Lukashenka. It increasingly views him as complicit in destabilising Russian actions in the region. Russia’s military failures generate new optimism among Belarusians that change is possible, leading to a greater willingness to challenge the regime again.

Impact on Western Policy

The regime feels more vulnerable and wants to distance itself from its weakened traditional backer in the Kremlin. Lukashenka makes more attempts to re-engage with the West, arguing that he did not intend for Belarus to get involved in the war and that he resisted Russia’s demands for more participation. The regime releases some political prisoners to ease the reestablishing of engagement with the West. This prompts certain Western countries to reevaluate the policy of heavy sanctions and refraining from dialogue.

The West increases its attention toward Belarus, but its main focus remains on developments in Ukraine and Russia. The non-recognition policy of Lukashenka’s regime continues due to its mass human rights violations and complicity in Russia’s war. The West intensifies its efforts to engage with pro-democracy groups outside Belarus, recognising their importance in connecting with the population in the country. The West also tries to increase its support and collaboration with a diverse range of opposition groups, civil society actors and other relevant entities within Belarus.

Short-Term Priorities for the Pro-Democracy Forces

  • Call publicly on and initiate private outreach to lower-level security officials who may be waiting until the last minute to decide to switch sides to urge them to refrain from propping up Lukashenka as Russia’s position weakens, and emphasise the benefits of a democratic transition to them as well as to the country.
  • Boost the existing underground resistance initiatives in the country, launch a comprehensive digital campaign to make the population aware of the real status of the war, and develop a strategy for coordinated strikes and acts of civil disobedience.
  • Engage with the governments of Ukraine and the West to make the withdrawal of Russia’s military from Belarus an integral part of their war strategy and any eventual peace settlement.

Short-Term Priorities for the West

  • Make demanding the immediate withdrawal of Russia’s military forces, including any Wagner troops, and tactical nuclear weapons from Belarus an integral part of efforts to speed up Ukraine’s victory in the war.
  • Continue the policy of non-recognition of and non-engagement with Lukashenka’s regime and clearly rule out accepting any ideas or agreements proposed by the regime, such as a Minsk III format to end the war.
  • Include Belarus in the mandate of all efforts at setting up an international tribunal or other accountability mechanism to investigate, document and prosecute war crimes committed by Russia during the war in Ukraine.


The exercise presented here is subject to limitations as the situation in Belarus is highly complex, and there is a lack of comprehensive information about the inner workings of Lukashenka’s regime and its relationship with Russia in particular. Nonetheless, the three scenarios offer a way of systematically thinking through – and preparing for – how the evolution of the war in Ukraine could shape dynamics in Belarus over the coming months, which could be crucial.

The severity of the effects of each scenario for Belarus varies significantly. Full military involvement in Russia’s war would have disastrous consequences for Belarus, while Russia facing defeat would create a window of opportunity for change but also carry risk and uncertainties. A stalemate scenario would increase the challenges already faced by the pro-democracy forces.

In this context, the internationally active pro-democracy forces should prioritise developments inside Belarus and be prepared for the potential emergence of new political leaders and forces there. As the 2020 protests belong increasingly in the past and the pro-democracy forces become more fragmented, they must address these challenges. Meanwhile, the West must keep Belarus high on its agenda and distinguish it from Russia and the people from the regime. It is also important for it not to fall into the trap of any Russian call for peace talks and of Lukashenka presenting himself as a mediator.


© The German Marshall Fund of the United States 

© Visegrad Insight, Res Publica Foundation
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Featured photo uses: Deny Hill on Unsplash

Katsiaryna Lozka

Katsiaryna Lozka is a PhD fellow in Political Science at the Ghent Institute for International and European Studies (GIES), funded by the Flemish Research Foundation (FWO). Katsiaryna’s doctoral research focuses on necropolitical violence and resistance in Belarus and Ukraine. She was a research fellow at the University of Oxford’s Belarus Observatory, a visiting researcher at the University of Tartu, and a research fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the US. Katsiaryna holds an MA in EU International Relations and Diplomacy Studies from the College of Europe in Bruges and a Master's degree in European Studies from Comenius University in Bratislava (Slovakia).


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