Iran Sends Military Attaché to Belarus for the First Time Since Fall of USSR

In mid-May 2024, Iran sent a military attache to Belarus. This event had not occured since the fall of the Soviet Union. This news comes within days of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi’s unexpected death in a helicopter crash. President Putin is scheduled to make a visit to Belarusian President Alexander Lukaschenko by the end of May, which will allow the two to conference about next steps in the Ukraine War. Direct Iranian support for the Russian military campaign in Ukraine will have devastating consequences for the already thinly stretched Ukrainian military. 

Regarding the Ukraine-Russia conflict, Belarusian President Lukaschenko has made no bones about his support for Russia, saying Ukraine ought to “[s]hoo away these masters from over the ocean. They won’t bring [Ukraine] any happiness. As soon as they can’t use [Ukrainians] anymore, they will dump [them] at the junkyard of history.” The late President Raisi was adamant that the West had stoked the conflict in Europe, telling the UN in 2023 “[w]e are against the war and we are ready to mediate in order to end it, but the taxes of the American people are spent on war-making and filling the pockets of arms factories from the place of arms sales in this field.” In a summary of the phone conversation between President Putin and acting President Mohammed Mokhber in the wake of Raisi’s death, the Kremlin issued a statement saying “[b]oth sides emphasized their mutual desire to further consistently strengthen comprehensive Russian-Iranian interaction for the benefit of the peoples of the two countries.”

The Western approach to the war in Ukraine has largely failed to produce the desired outcome of reestablishing Ukrainian territories to its pre-2022 borders. WIthout a peace agreement or a large-scale military intervention by the United States and its NATO allies, the Russian military with its strategic outposts in Kaliningrad and Belarus and support from the Iranian regime will ultimately prevail militarily over Ukraine. At earlier stages of the conflict, Putin may have been more willing to concede captured land back to Zelensky. With the conflict dragging on and Putin’s army increasingly securing Ukrainian lands, Putin is now in a much stronger bargaining position than at the start of the invasion in 2022. High on Putin’s list of demands would obviously be the end of eastward NATO expansion, a guarantee that Russia has sought since the dissolution of the USSR. As the average age of Ukrainian soldiers continues to trend upwards (as of March their average age is 43 years old,) the United States and its NATO allies should begin to consider whether returning Ukraine to its pre-2022 borders remains an option when the alternative is the initiation of a likely nuclear World War Three. 

Belarus was established as a part of the USSR in 1920. It became an independent state in 1990 with the USSR’s collapse, but remained closely affiliated with the new Russian Federation. In 1999, Belarusian President Alexander Lukaschenko and Russian President Boris Yeltsin agreed to slowly unify the two states’ sovereignty, a move that Lukaschenko hoped would secure his spot as the next president of Russia. After the inauguration of President Putin, however, President Lukaschenko began to drag his feet on unification, opting rather to continue his rule over Belarus in close coordination with the Russian Federation. The invasion of Ukraine was actually launched from Belarus, as its borders are much closer to strategic military targets such as Kiev than anywhere in Russia. The Russian military has already benefited significantly from the use of Iranian drones in the war against Ukraine, but the recent transferral of Iranian intercontinental ballistic missiles to Russia has dramatically changed the importance of Iranian armaments to battlefield realities. Further coordination between Iran, Russia and Belarus in Ukraine will ultimately make impossible the mission to militarily defeat Russia without boots on the ground from the U.S. and NATO allies.

As the Ukraine-Russia War continues claiming more lives from both sides of the border, it is important that the United States and its allies reconsider the viability of their claims, as well as their new strategy dealing with the Kremlin and its allies.