At a recent summit meeting in the Black Sea resort town of Sochi, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Belarusian ally, Alexander Lukashenko, did their best to put on a public show of comity. They even enjoyed a friendly game of hockey during a break from meetings.
But despite the public proclamations of “brotherly” ties, the relationship between Russia and Belarus is much more nuanced—and much more troubled—than that. Tensions have been especially high in recent months, as Putin pushes for greater integration between the two countries, raising fears that he could try to annex Belarus outright. Lukashenko has staunchly resisted these efforts, making the meeting on Feb. 7 just the latest episode in an ongoing war of nerves between the two leaders.
As I recently testified before the U.S. Helsinki Commission, relations between Russia and Belarus are viewed very differently in Moscow and Minsk.