Western allies fear that Russia will gain sovereignty over Belarus, a former Soviet satellite state that could help preserve Vladimir Putin’s grip on power and sharpen Kremlin threats against NATO members.
Russian expansion is on the table because Putin is trying to finalize the implementation of a union treaty that the two countries signed in 1998. Moscow and Minsk interpret the agreement differently, but Putin has begun to apply economic pressure to Belarus while scheduling a flurry of meetings with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko over the last year.
“I think this mild annexation will just happen, probably next year,” Alisa Muzergues, a foreign policy analyst at GLOBSEC in the Slovak Republic, told the Washington Examiner. “To be honest, my personal feeling is that it’s already a done deal.”