March 31, 2023

Institute for the Study of War: Russian spokesman rejects Belarus cease-fire proposal

Institute for the Study of War

March 31, 2023

Russian President Vladimir Putin approved a new Russian Foreign Policy Concept on March 31 that likely aims to support the Kremlin’s attempts to promote a potential anti-Western coalition. The new Foreign Policy Concept paints the West as an anti-Russian and internationally destabilizing force to a far greater extent than Russia’s previous 2016 Foreign Policy Concept and explicitly states that the US and its “satellites” have unleashed a hybrid war aimed at weakening Russia. The new document also heavily stresses Russia’s goal of creating a multipolar world order and subordinates under that goal Russia’s broad foreign policy objectives, which include ending the United States’ supposed dominance in world affairs. The document asserts that most of humanity is interested in constructive relations with Russia and that a desired multi-polar world will give opportunities to non-Western world powers and regional leading countries. Putin previously used meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping on March 20 through 22 to increase attempts to rhetorically rally the rest of the world against the West, and the new document likely aims to support the Kremlin’s attempts to intensify proposals to non-aligned countries to form a more coherent anti-Western bloc. ISW assessed that Putin’s proposal to form an anti-Western bloc during Xi’s visit to Moscow was not positively received as Xi refused to align China with Putin’s envisioned geopolitical conflict with the West. Russia’s declining economic power and degraded military effort in Ukraine continue to offer little incentive to countries to express serious interest in the proposal. The Kremlin likely decided to release the new Foreign Policy Concept on the eve of assuming the presidency of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) in order to set informational conditions for future rhetorical efforts at the UN aimed at forming an anti-Western coalition. ISW previously assessed that Russia will likely weaponize its presidency of the UNSC as a method of Russian power projection.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko continues to use high-profile public statements to portray Belarus as a sovereign state despite its current de-facto occupation by Russian forces. Lukashenko reiterated boilerplate rhetoric about how he is Russian President Vladimir Putin’s equal partner in defense of Russia and Belarus by explicitly painting Belarus as the target of a Western hybrid war – a narrative Lukashenko has promoted since 2020. Lukashenko stated that he and Putin mutually agreed to deploy Russian nuclear weapons in Belarus to protect Belarus’ ”sovereignty and independence.” Lukashenko also stated that he and Putin mutually decided to partially deploy elements of the Union State’s Regional Grouping of Troops (RGV) to an unspecified area. Lukashenko stated that nobody should worry that Russia ”captured something” in Belarus and stated the Russian forces training in Belarus under Belarusian officers are subordinated to Belarusian forces’.  Lukashenko likely seeks to use the narrative that Belarus is a fully sovereign state and Russia’s equal partner in the Union State so that he can use informational leverage to request that Russian forces leave Belarus after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine concludes. Lukashenko also stated that he supports peace negotiations “as soon as possible” and offered to help mediate negotiations.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov promptly rejected Lukashenko’s suggestion of a ceasefire and indicated that the Kremlin is not interested in serious negotiations. Peskov responded to a question about Lukashenko’ suggestion on March 31 and stated that Russian forces will continue to carry out their missions in Ukraine. Peskov emphasized that Russian military operations in Ukraine are the only means by which Russia can achieve its goals. Peskov likely aimed to leave open the possibility for launching new information operations about Russian interests in a ceasefire by stating that Putin and Lukashenko may discuss the proposal for a truce in Ukraine. The Kremlin may decide to promote ceasefire narratives in coming weeks in an attempt to freeze the frontlines in Ukraine out of fears that a Ukrainian counteroffensive could result in Ukrainian forces liberating more territory. 

Russian Security Council Deputy Chairman Dmitry Medvedev leveraged comments about sending peacekeeping forces to Ukraine to continue information operations that portray the West as escalatory.  Medvedev likely responded to Viktor Orban’s March 31 statements regarding alleged European discussions about sending peacekeeping forces to Ukraine and stated that Russian forces would target the hypothetical peacekeepers. Medvedev argued that a Western-led peacekeeping mission to Ukraine would end in tragedies reminiscent of Yugoslavia and other conflicts. There are no indications outside of Orban’s comments that Western officials are seriously discussing such a proposal, and Medvedev likely used Orban’s comments to construct a straw man proposal to paint the West as trying to escalate the war in Ukraine.

Key Takeaways

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin approved a new Russian Foreign Policy Concept on March 31 that likely aims to support the Kremlin’s attempts to promote a potential anti-Western coalition.
  • Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko continues to use high-profile public statements to portray Belarus as a sovereign state despite its current de-facto occupation by Russian forces.
  • Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov promptly rejected Lukashenko’s suggestion of a ceasefire and indicated that the Kremlin is not interested in serious negotiations.
  • Russian Security Council deputy chairman Dmitry Medvedev leveraged comments about sending peacekeeping forces to Ukraine to continue information operations that portray the West as escalatory.
  • Russian forces continued ground attacks along the Svatove-Kreminna line. 
  • Russian forces made gains within Bakhmut and Ukrainian forces regained positions in the Bakhmut area. 
  • Russian forces continued offensive operations along the Avdiivka-Donetsk frontline. 
  • Ukrainian strikes against Russian concentration areas in southern Ukraine are likely causing the Russian grouping in the area to change tactics to avoid the risk of strikes.
  • Russian officials continue to state that Russian forces have no plans for a formal second wave of mobilization.
  • Russian officials continue to send Ukrainian children to camps in Russia.
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