Economic disputes, trade restrictions and public tirades are not usually the stuff of strong, bilateral partnerships. But that’s the nature of relations between Russia and Belarus these days, two geopolitical partners who have experienced an unusually bitter falling-out in recent months.
Mutual frustration between Russia and Belarus isn’t exactly new. In the past few years, Moscow and Minsk have traded jabs on everything from dairy products to energy prices. The Russian jabs have typically been attempts to exert political and economic pressure on Minsk to make sure it stays loyal. For Belarus’ president, Alexander Lukashenko, tensions with Moscow have provided opportunities to extract concessions from the West, which still hopes to bring “Europe’s last dictatorship,” as Lukashenko’s regime is often called, in from the cold.
But the latest disagreements between the Kremlin and its junior partner come during a time of considerably raised geopolitical stakes, as the crisis in Ukraine continues to shape politics throughout Eastern Europe. Moscow went from simply pressuring the Ukrainian government over its warming ties with the European Union to forcibly annexing the Crimean peninsula and fueling a bloody, years-long separatist rebellion in eastern Ukraine.