After close to three decades in power, the Belarusian dictator’s room for maneuver is becoming very narrow indeed.

The Belarusian leader Aliaksandr Lukashenka announced on January 24 that he was moving a “whole contingent of the army” toward the southern border, close to Ukraine, writes Claudia Palazzo in Europe’s Edge.

This was done as part of joint drills with Russia announced a “long time ago,” and was decided to protect the border, where “Ukrainians have begun to gather troops [there]. I don’t understand why.”

In truth, the joint military drills with Russia, to run between 10 and 20 February, were announced only on January 17, and the first movement of Russian troops toward Belarus started shortly after. Russia is now positioning batteries of S-400 anti-aircraft missiles, which with a 400 km (250 miles) range, can threaten the airspace of Kyiv, Warsaw, and the Baltic states. On January 26, Russian footage also showed Su-35 combat aircraft deployed at Belarusian airfields.

The Russian military build-up has overshadowed events in Belarus, which was in the spotlight last summer when it encouraged developing world migrants to cross into its European Union (EU) neighbors, Lithuania and Poland, creating a weeks-long standoff as Polish border forces fought to keep them out. At the time, Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki urged allies to “join the dots” and understand that Lukashenka’s “sponsor”, Russia, was using such tactics to destabilize the continent.

Lukashenka has used the intervening months to develop his proposals to change the country’s constitution and government apparatus following his (presumed) defeat in the 2020 elections and extensive repression to crush resultant popular protests.

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