Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine: Repercussions for Belarus and Moldova

By Alex Thomas, MALD 2023 Candidate, The Fletcher School

The relationships between Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldova have evolved significantly since Russia launched its war against Ukraine in February. Over the summer, there were fears that Belarus would join Russia in the war; on June 30, Belarusian citizens began receiving conscription notices from enlistment offices, including people who were previously considered “unfit for service.” Russian President Vladimir Putin even began to arm the Belarusian military with Iskander-M tactical missile systems capable of carrying both conventional and nuclear missiles. Meanwhile, Moldova and Ukraine were granted EU candidate status over the summer amidst concerns that Russia may use Transnistria to open up a second front against Ukraine. For the past 30 years, the presence of the Russian military in Transnistria has been a deterrent against a Moldovan offensive, but it could be mobilized for the first time in recent history for offensive purposes. Against the backdrop of the worst war in Europe since World War II, the geopolitics of Eastern Europe continues to dominate news headlines around the world. 

To help better understand the repercussions of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine for Belarus and Moldova, The Fletcher School’s Russia and Eurasia Program and Center for Strategic Studies co-hosted a panel to discuss some of these economic, political, and security implications. The first panelist was visiting professor Volodymyr Dubovyk, Director of the Center for International Studies at Odesa I. I. Mechnikov National University in Ukraine. The second was Vitali Shkliarov, former Harvard University visiting scholar and Belarusian political activist. Myroslava Gongadze, the Eastern Europe Chief at Voice of America, was the last panelist. The panel was moderated by Oleg Shakirov, a Fletcher visiting scholar and expert on international cyber policy and U.S.-Russia arms control issues. 

The conversation began with Shakirov asking Shkliarov to characterize the role of Belarus thus far in the war, and what shape he predicts future Belarusian involvement in Ukraine will take. 

“Many of us here in the West are forgetting that Belarus is currently fighting two wars: one in Ukraine, and one inside of Belarus. By providing Belarusian territory to Russian infrastructure and soldiers and using Belarus as a front for the war, Lukashenko has supported the Russian aggression and will become more involved in the war. The list of war criminals that will come from this war will certainly include Belarussian [names],” Shkliarov said. 

“Because of Russia’s decision to go to war [in Ukraine], it has lost the opportunity for a type of peaceful integration of Belarus into Russia like it has been doing for the last several decades. The idea of the Russian spheres of influence and Russian world is failing,” he continued. 

Shakirov then shifted the conversation to Moldova, and asked Gongadze to characterize the role that Moldova has played thus far in the war and her expectations about it as the conflict draws on. 

“In a stark contrast with Belarus, Moldova has and continues to take a vocal position against Russian aggression in Ukraine. Pro-Western President Maia Sandu has been very careful, looking at her country as a weak and poor one, but still standing up to Russian aggression and supporting Ukraine in this fight,” Gongadze said. 

“One thing we can say for certain is that the fate of Belarus, Moldova, and perhaps the world will be decided in Ukraine,” Gongadze concluded. 

Shakirov then turned to the final panelist, Professor Dubovyk, to ask about his opinion regarding the future prospects of Moldova as a peaceful allied state or a potential strategic threat. 

“To put it simply, the potential front from Moldova is too small of a scale to be seen as a threat [to Russia]. Another front opening on Belarus, however, would be a different story. We already have a military front with Russia that is some 2,500 kilometers, and extending that to Belarus would certainly be a problem,” Dubovyk said. 

“With that in mind, the Russian military forces are huge and they are definitely not a match for the Ukrainian military right now, so there is some logic to Moscow pressuring Belarus to join the war,” Dubovyk concluded. 

Shakirov then opened the discussion up to the broader audience in attendance, who asked a variety of different questions ranging from the rule of law and the use of Telegram in Russia to Russian democratic reforms and the role that China has played in the war thus far. 

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