Russia Belarus union explained: Inside close ties between Putin and Lukashenko

Ukraine: Tanks enter country via Belarus border

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Ukraine is battling the Russian invasion after Russia’s President Vladimir Putin announced escalations earlier this week. Troops entered Ukraine in the early hours of Thursday morning, with widespread shelling, air warfare and growing casualty numbers. Widespread condemnation has been heard across the globe – and now Home Secretary Priti Patel has cancelled the visas of the Belarus men’s basketball team.

The Belarusian basketball team were due to travel to the UK to play Great Britain before the game was postponed.

The World Cup 2023 European Qualifier match, planned for Monday at the Vertu Motors Arena in Newcastle has been cancelled.

Ms Patel tweeted on Saturday: “I have cancelled the visas of the Belarusian Men’s Basketball Team who were due to play in Newcastle tomorrow night.

“The UK will not welcome the national sports teams of those countries who are complicit in Putin’s unprovoked and illegal invasion of #Ukraine.”

Read More: Ukrainians mock stranded Russian troops after tank runs out of fuel

In her tweet, Ms Patel indicated the teams were due to play on Sunday rather than Monday night.

But why has the Home Secretary rescinded the Belarusian team’s visas?

Belarus and Russia have very close ties, with the former country working with Putin closely.

As the conflict began, Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko said his country’s military could step in to aid Russia if needed.

Lukashenko said he would speak to Putin about strengthening the western flank.

Lukashenko is said to have told the Belarusian military: “He [Mr Putin] gave me a detailed introduction to the situation and most importantly, to the development of the situation.”

The Belarusian president added troops would not be involved in the invasion but could be called upon “if necessary”.

Putin reportedly spoke with Lukashenko just after the attack on Ukraine began.

Reports stated Russian troops entered Ukraine from its northern border, triggering intense scrutiny on Belarus’s involvement.

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Russia is Belarus’s largest economic and political ally, and Minsk have grown very reliant on Moscow in recent years.

Russia accounts for 47.9 percent of the Belarusian foreign trade, and in 2020, the mutual trade amounted to $29.5 billion, with exports to Russia reaching $13.1 billion and imports from Russia — $16.4 billion.

In September 2021, Putin and Lukashenko deepened their relationship even further, with economic ties and loans from Russia to Belarus.

Putin told reporters at the time: “First the economic foundation must be laid before moving further on the political track.”

The two countries are in a so-called Union State, with Russia discounting gas supplies for Belarus and a further $630 million in loans for Belarus.

The extent to Belarus’s involvement in the Ukraine invasion is yet to be seen, however, sanctions on Belarus are on the agenda.

The UK has said sanctions will be imposed on Belarus, with Minister for Europe and North America James Cleverly saying Minsk had “aided and abetted” Russia’s “reckless aggression”.

Olga Dryndova, editor of Belarus-Analysen at the University of Bremen’s Research Center for East European Studies in Germany told TIME: “I think the most alarming thing we now understand is that we’re not quite sure whether Belarus could be considered as a sovereign state in terms of control on its own territory, especially in terms of military control.”

Japan is considering imposing economic sanctions on Belarus, in line with the United States, for its support of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

However, as yet it was not immediately clear which individuals or entities would be targeted by such sanctions.

The officials told Reuters Tokyo will coordinate with other members of the Group of Seven industrial powers.

The US sanctions over Thursday’s invasion include 24 Belarusian individuals and entities, the US Treasury Department said.

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