In April 2016 the Parliament adopted amendments to the penal code, providing a juridical base for criminal prosecution of Belarusians participating in battle actions in Ukraine on both sides of the front. In May these amendments came into force. There were attempts to hold these people accountable before, their families were under pressure, but the penal code included only an article on mercenaries. This article was difficult to prove, and not all people who participated in the war in Ukraine were mercenaries. Since May 2016 the very fact of participating in battle actions outside of Belarus without a special sanction of the state became criminal regardless of the motives.

It’s also worth a reminder, that in May Taras Avatarov, a citizen of the Republic of Belarus and a volunteer fighter for “The Right Sector”, was confined to 5 years of imprisonment.

In September 2014 IISEPS asked a question on the respondents’ attitude to the participation of Belarusian citizens in the war in Ukraine. In June 2016 we asked this question again (chart 1).

The increase is small but noticeable. At the same time the share of supporters of battle actions’ participants on any side became almost equal.

This result is quite unexpected. In September 2014 the bloodiest pages of the confrontation in the East of Ukraine were a matter of future. Now the price of this war is known to everyone, including Belarusians. Moreover, the actions in question asked in 2016 are now considered criminal according to the Belarusian law. Belarusian motto “let there be no war” hardly lost its popularity over this time as well. And still…

Table 2 results demonstrate how the attitude to the participation of Belarusians in the war in Ukraine is connected to the age, the attitude to the President, and the geopolitical choice.

Table 2. Relationship between the attitude towards participation of Belarusians in the war in Ukraine, trust to the President, and the preferred vector of integration*, %

Characteristics What is your attitude to the participation of Belarusian citizens in combat actions in Ukraine?
Positive, if they are on the side of Ukrainian army Positive, if they are on the side of participants of armed protests Negative DA/NA
18-29 15.7 12.9 63.1 8.3
30-59 10.1 9.2 72.8 7.6
60 + 7.4 11.7 74.6 6.0
Do you trust the President?
Trust 9.1 12.8 68.7 9.2
Don’t trust 14.1 9.8 70.8 5.2
If you had to choose between integration with Russia and joining the EU, what would you choose?
Integration with Russia 6.3 11.7 75.0 6.9
Joining the EU 19.6 10.3 64.2 5.6
DA/NA 6.1 9.4 73.6 10.7

* The table is read across

“I went off to fight with a gun and a pack, so the poor in Granada could get the land back” – young people are more inclined to follow the motive formulated in the poem of Mikhail Svetlov (translated by Margaret Wettlin), regardless of who are those “poor” who need help of Belarusian fighters to “get the land back”. The share of those who sympathize with Belarusians fighting on the side of Ukraine is higher among young people, but the share of those sharing the opposite sympathy is high enough – higher than average. As for old and wise people, most of them would prefer that Belarusians don’t participate in battling actions at all.

Apparently, this age difference determines the difference between people with opposite political views as well: President’s supporters and adherent of integration with Russia are less inclined to support Belarusians’ participation in battle actions in Donbass. Geopolitical priorities turn out to be a more differentiating factor than attitude to Lukashenko.

Geopolitical choice also differentiates the shares of those who support Belarusians on the side of Kiev and on the side of DNR/LNR: the share of former is twice as low among “Belo-Russians” as the share of latter; among “Euro-Belarusians” the ratio is the opposite. Among those who trust or don’t trust the President the difference between these shares is less contrasting.

In general, it should be stated that overwhelming majority of Belarusians doesn’t support their compatriots’ participation in the war in Ukraine. This trend is observed in all demographic groups regardless of their political preferences.

At the same time even political preferences impact differently the attitude to Belarusians watching one another in Donbass through optical sights: among Lukashenko’s supporters and adherents of integration with Russia there are enough people who sympathize Belarusians fighting in Ukraine against separatists; among people who don’t trust the President and prefer joining the EU, almost each tenth sympathizes with compatriots fighting against Ukraine.