Ukraine’s northern neighbor Belarus has a population that is largely pro-Ukraine, but that is tempered by successful Russian efforts in keeping Belarus subservient t0 Russia. Both Belarus and Ukraine share borders with Russia, and both were former parts of the Soviet Union that dissolved into 14 new nations in 1991. While Belarus and Ukraine faced similar problems and opportunities after 1991, only Belarus had a Soviet-style leader in charge most of the time. More so than in Ukraine, in Belarus tampering with the vote has been common since the 1990s but it got worse and worse as more voters turned against the government via larger and larger pro-democracy demonstrations which were suppressed with the aid of Russian security forces. For 26 years Belarus president-for-life Alexander Lukashenko has ruled as a loyal ally of Russia. That has not helped the Belarussian economy or improved the lives of Belarus voters. A new post-Soviet Union generation of voters has seen how life is better in democracies, especially other former victims of Russian rule like neighboring Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and Ukraine. They blame Lukashenko for the poverty and mismanaged economy in Belarus, as well as an incompetent response to covid19.
As a result, Russia controls Lukashenko and his cronies but not the majority of Belarussians, who have actively supported Ukraine in their fight against the invading Russians. This has not stopped Lukashenko from providing some support for the Russian war effort, chiefly in allowing Russian forces to attack Ukraine from Belarus and turning over Soviet-era weapons kept in storage. Russia needed these after these after the massive tank losses suffered during the first two months of the invasion. So far Belarus has provided Russia with over 120 T-72A tanks, several dozen BMP-2s and even more military trucks. Since the beginning of the war Belarus has made its hospitals available for Russian casualties. Belarussians reported to Ukraine that many of the early casualties were dead-on-arrival because Russian medical care at the front was largely absent. Belarussians also sabotaged the rail lines into Ukraine, which were briefly used by the Russians as they tried to conquer northern Ukraine and the capital Kyiv.
Lukashenko noted the heavy Russian losses in Ukraine and the pro-Ukraine attitudes and sometimes actions of Belarussians. Lukashenko cited this as justification for not actively joining the fight in Ukraine. Most Belarussian troops are pro-Ukraine and anti-Lukashenko. Despite these problems Lukashenko has been able to provide useful support for the Russian war effort. Belarus continues to give Russia access to its territory, and provide bases for, air attacks on Ukraine, provide medical care for Russian troops, and allowed Russia to use some training centers, and pro-Russian staff, to help train new Russian recruits.
Belarus is a police state where elections and everything else are manipulated to keep the politicians in power. It's a tricky business, but so far Lukashenko has kept the security forces up to snuff and on his side. He bribes or bullies key officials to keep the country running. Lukashenko has maintained good relations with Russia, getting him cheap fuel supplies and other aid. Belarus is small (9.5 million people) compared to neighbors Russia (146 million) and Ukraine (42 million) and Russia is feared because it wants to absorb Belarus and Ukraine to rebuild the centuries old Russian empire that the czars created and the communists lost. Lukashenko, like most Belarussians, opposes annexation by Russia. At this point Russia is not seeking to annex Belarus or again send in security forces to help suppress what has turned into a slowly rising rebellion against Lukashenko.
By 2021 Lukashenko was becoming more of a liability for Russia but was still a “favored ally.” Russia would like to be rid of Lukashenko but there is no one in Belarus with his skills and experience. Russia has created a major problem for itself in Belarus. Not as bad as the mess in Ukraine, but still another setback in the Russian effort to rebuild the Soviet-era Russian empire.
After the 2020 election fiasco, several hundred Belarussians fled the country and established themselves in eastern European nations. There they sought to organize an opposition operation inside Belarus and overthrow Lukashenko. They solicited money and other assistance from Western countries but have been unable to agree on how to proceed. Some of the expatriate Belarussians blame Russia, which has kept in touch with the exiled Belarussians and caused discontent via threats and rumors about what is going on in Belarus and Ukraine. While the Ukrainians have been able to defeat these Russian tactics, which was one reason Putin went to war with Ukraine, the Belarus opposition has been neutralized. Russia advised Lukashenko to let his opponents seeking to leave Belarus do so. Just make sure to add some reliable intelligence agents to clandestinely monitor the exiles and carry out disinformation and other operations as needed. Ukraine arrested or drove most of these Russian agents out during the first few months of the 2022 war, when Ukrainians took their nationalism to new levels. That never happened in Belarus. The Lukashenko faction and Russia want to keep it that way.
Despite all that Belarus is still a troublesome neighbor but is also capable of assisting Russia after the 2022 invasion. Another example is Belarus’ collusion with Russia to obtain embargoed spare parts for Russian civilian and military aircraft. Belarus is subject to some sanctions because of its support for Russia, but not nearly as many sanctions as Russia itself. Belarus’ transfer of Western spare parts to Russia for its military and civil aircraft might get Belarus subjected to sanctions on those, but that hasn’t happened so far. Ukrainian military intelligence discovered and publicized this deal, which enabled Western nations to use their space satellites and embassy personnel to check up on this activity
The Ukrainians probably got the tip from pro-Ukrainian Belarusians. There are a lot of those in Belarus. That’s how the West found out that in late July Belarus agreed to send 200 soldiers to Syria to replace the many more Russian troops brought back to Russia to replace losses in Ukraine. Belarus has refused Russian requests to send its troops into Ukraine. While Lukashenko is pro-Russia, most Belarussians are not and some openly support Ukraine.
The Belarussian government continued to cooperate because Russia had been propping up Lukashenko, who faced large scale demonstrations after the 202o elections protesting his misrule and vote rigging. Russia sent in troops that enabled Belarus to deploy all its more reliable security forces against the demonstrators.
Many Belarussians continue supporting Ukraine and sabotaging the Russian war effort. Some of the sabotage came in the form of timely reports on what Russian troops were doing in Belarus. After the second month of the invasion Russian soldiers were allowed to freely loot and some managed to get back to Russia with a lot of loot. Many of the retreating troops passed through Belarus, where local and international media were free to report on them. Belarussian police also ignored the large amount of loot being sold in hastily organized markets, or shipped via parcel shipping offices that regularly sent packages to Russia. It was obvious that many of the Russian soldiers brought civilian goods looted from Ukrainian homes and businesses as they were being forced out of northern Ukraine
Lukashenko is limited in how much he can support the Russian war effort and so far, Russia has accepted those limitations and obtained what assistance it could from Belarus.