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Belarus Is Fast Becoming a ‘Vassal State’ of Russia

Allowing Moscow to place tactical nuclear weapons on its soil is just the latest sign of its loss of sovereignty to the Kremlin, military experts and pro-democracy activists say

Relocation of Russian nuclear weapons to the Republic of Belarus

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Pavel Latushka, a former Belarusian diplomat and minister turned dissident, has published evidence that Belarus is complicit in the forced displacement of Ukrainian children from Russian-occupied territory. Prosecutors from the International Criminal Court in March issued arrest warrants for Putin and his children’s rights commissioner accusing them of deporting thousands of Ukrainian children to Russia.

In late May, Latushka presented Ukrainian prosecutors with the names and details of approximately a dozen children from Russian-occupied Ukraine who were brought to camps in Belarus. In an interview, he said that as of last month about 2,150 Ukrainian children had been brought to at least three camps run by state-owned companies in Belarus, including the Belaruskali potash company.

Belaruskali was placed under E.U. and U.S. sanctions in the wake of Mr. Lukashenko’s violent suppression of the pro-democracy protests. Ukrainian prosecutors have confirmed that they are investigating Mr. Latushka’s accusations.

Mr. Latushka said he discovered documents signed under the auspices of the “Union State,” a vague alignment of Russia and Belarus, that ordered the movement of Ukrainian children that has been carried out.

The decision is signed personally by Lukashenko,” who currently chairs the supranational body’s leadership council.

The apparent positioning of Russian nuclear weapons in Belarus is also part of agreements made in the Union State, though the Kremlin has said all of the nuclear materials will be under Russian control. The nuclear weapons are a source of pride for Mr. Lukashenko, who thinks they will “give him the ability to stay in power until his death,” said Mr. Latushka.

Ms. Tikhanovskaya said it seemed like some Western leaders were “trying to whitewash Lukashenko,” justifying their tepid response out of the belief that he had at least not joined the invasion — though there are allegations that Belarusian officers are training Russian recruits.

Rather than resisting pressure to join forces with Putin, she said, Lukashenko was deeply concerned about stirring domestic unrest over a war that remains unpopular in Belarus. If that should spark another major uprising he could be forced to appeal to Moscow for security assistance. And that, Mr. Latushka said, could be the final step toward Mr. Putin’s ultimate goal: “To absorb Belarus.”


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