This chapter aims to combine the analysis of the geopolitical, security and economic dimensions of the previous chapters with the findings of a scenario workshop on the future of Belarus, held on 15 April 2021. It will first focus on the key influencing factors that shape both the domestic political situation in Belarus and the degree of its integration into the Union State. It will then formulate a number of possible scenarios and will conclude by examining their implications for the EU and NATO. It is important to note in this regard that the developed scenarios do not aim to predict the future or provide forecasts of future (geo)political developments. Instead, these scenarios are meant to be descriptions of potential future pathways. This allows policymakers to formulate better strategies, both to nudge the outcome towards their preferred scenario and to draw up contingency plans in order to respond to other scenarios.

What influences the future of Belarus in the context of the Union State?

In the context of this exercise, influencing factors constitute relevant factors that may play a role in the overall future of Belarus until the spring of 2023. The participants of the workshop were asked to identify influencing factors in six broad categories. These are Political; Geopolitical; Economic; Societal; Security; and Other. Based on literature research and input by the workshop participants a large number of influencing factors in the aforementioned categories were identified. Figure 5 below shows which driving forces were considered by the participants to be of most relevance for the future of Belarus.

Figure 5
Factors of influence
Factors of influence

While a full analysis of each factor is beyond the scope of the present report, it is important to note that these factors are strongly interdependent, both within categories and between categories. For example, the level of repression within Belarus has a direct effect on the level of mobilisation of citizens to go out and protest, and vice versa. In turn, international factors such as the role of the EU and the impact of sanctions from the West is linked to actions by the regime. Domestically, the level of regime stability, which in turn is dependent on many other factors, is one of the most important parameters for the country’s future in the next two years. The level of Russian support for the Lukashenko regime is a pivotal factor for ensuring its survival, together with the loyalty of political and security elites towards the regime; these two factors counter the pressure on the regime by the growing level of societal discontent and mobilisation, at least in the short term.

Zooming in on societal factors shows that these are also closely related. The level of mobilisation of citizens depends on the level of trust in state institutions, the extent to which grassroots organisations are effective, but also to some extent on the level of emigration and brain drain. In the category of domestic political factors, the level of cohesion within the opposition and the position of trade unions and workers are significant, also from a societal point of view.

Economic factors are both influenced by and shape the political and societal future of the country. The domestic political situation in Belarus strongly affects the country’s macro-economic situation, especially with an eye towards a potential post-covid economic crisis. For Belarus’ economy the political relations with the Russian Federation are moreover key, as set out in chapter 5. Should those deteriorate once again then the crucial financial support from Russia to Belarus may well dry up, with considerable economy consequences; in turn, Western economic sanctions will also negatively impact the Belarusian economy, even though the current sanctions are still relatively mild.

Finally, a number of security and geopolitical factors are worth highlighting. The (partial) integration in the Union State may lead to the further integration of Belarusian and Russian armed forces. Such military developments may in turn spur Western military responses which will have a combined effect on regional stability perceptions. The positions of Russia and the EU are also influenced by other geopolitical actors, such as the U.S.

Constructing the scenario framework

Based on the discussion of influencing factors a scenario framework along two main axes can be constructed. The two main axes constitute two aggregated influencing factors that are both decisive for the future of Belarus, and that are of particular relevance for the research question of this report. The first is the level of regime stability in the country, revolving around the question of whether the current Belarusian leadership will remain in power or not. This does not only exclusively concern Lukashenko, but also his closest allies within the regime. A nominal ‘Kazakhstan-style’ transition, with Lukashenko formally stepping down but remaining in power behind the scenes would count as continuity for the purposes of this scenario exercise.

The second variable is the level of further integration with Russia, ranging from no significant new steps within the Union State framework or even a degree of ‘disintegration’, all the way to full incorporation into the Russian Federation. Apart from the two most extreme variants of ‘disintegration’ and ‘de jure incorporation’, the participants also identified scenarios that they deemed to be more plausible, resulting in the scenario framework as presented in figure 6.

Figure 6
Six possible scenarios for Belarus in 2023
Six possible scenarios for Belarus in 2023

During the workshop four out of six scenarios were elaborated in detail, taking into account the scenario framework as well as the earlier identified influencing factors. The more ‘moderate’ and more ‘radical’ scenarios in the bottom-left and bottom-right quadrants were merged into a more middle-ground scenario. A brief summary of the 2023 situation for each of these scenarios follows below. When reading these scenarios, the timing of the scenario exercise, i.e., 15 April 2021, should be taken into account. Events taking place in Belarus after this date – such as Ryanair flight 4978 that was forcibly rerouted from Vilnius to Minsk - are not reflected in the scenarios.

Scenario 1: Muddle Through

In the ‘Muddle Through’ scenario the pattern of the past 25 years continues. The Lukashenko regime manages to ‘wait out’ the current crisis, stays in power and is able to continue its ‘multi-vector’ independent course. Integration into the Union State largely remains a paper exercise, with the Belarusian government implementing ‘low hanging fruit’ arrangements but not making significant concessions that infringe on its sovereignty. These include a minor degree of privatisation of state enterprises and continued military cooperation with the armed forces of the Russian Federation, albeit without new permanent Russian bases being established in Belarus.

Some domestic constitutional amendments are implemented following a referendum, gradually leading to a less repressive climate in the country. Domestic threats to Lukashenko decrease as the opposition is increasingly divided, the most critical voices have been silenced or left the country, and some factions are co-opted by the authorities. Lukashenko makes minor concessions in response to EU concerns; demonstrations are allowed up to a certain level, and some of the more moderate political prisoners are released or put under house arrest. The West maintains its policy of non-recognition but eventually reluctantly re-engages with the Lukashenko regime, if only because it remains occupied by more pressing crises elsewhere. In exchange for a few concessions Russia subsidizes Belarus just enough to allow it to service its foreign debt, avoiding a major macro-economic crisis but sharply reducing its energy subsidies. Russia remains the primary trading partner of Belarus and Belarusian exports through Russia are on the rise, but Lukashenko also secures access to other markets. Remaining Western sanctions fail to significantly influence Lukashenko’s calculations and some are eventually lifted.

Scenario 2: Reluctant Integration

In the ‘Reluctant Integration’ scenario, the Lukashenko regime formally remains in power but gradually integrates further into the Union State in exchange for continued Russian support. While he manages to preserve Belarusian sovereignty and avoid a full-scale takeover, behind the scenes Lukashenko is forced to make a steady stream of concessions which leads to more standoffs between the regime and the Belarusian population, primarily those segments which remain staunchly opposed to the de facto loss of sovereignty to the Russian Federation.

Popular discontent is aggravated by economic factors. Some of Russia’s support comes in exchange for the privatisation of Belarusian state-owned enterprises which end up in the hands of Russian oligarchs. Belarus remains dependent on Russian energy subsidies or direct lending, while its tax and monetary policies are integrated with those of Russia. Major economic sectors are further integrated with those of the Russian Federation. Belarus continues to export to the EU, including petroleum products, but the trade levels between the two decrease significantly both due to sanctions and due to the reorientation of the economy towards the Russian Federation.

On the geopolitical stage Lukashenko escalates his anti-Western rhetoric and squarely sides with the Russian Federation in most matters. He shies away from formally recognizing Russian sovereignty over Crimea in order not to aggravate bilateral relations with Ukraine, which remains an important lifeline for Belarusian trade. The EU practically ceases all forms of cooperation with the Lukashenko regime and instead invests in people-to-people contacts and the Belarusian opposition in exile. A parallel legal reality develops where the EU does not recognize the Belarusian-Russian agreements.

Scenario 3: Change of Course

In the ‘Change of Course’ scenario, the Lukashenko government is toppled by sustained domestic protests and paralysing strikes in state-owned enterprises. An interim government is formed by moderate opposition forces that are joined by part of the former political elite. While the Union State treaties continue to exist, the new leadership blocks further integration in the Union State and makes overtures towards the EU. Russia withdraws its financial support to the country and demands that Belarus repays its vast debts. The EU tries to cushion the blow through economic assistance but fails to stave off a recession. What follows is a painful economic transition marked by high inflation and unemployment. State companies are privatised, potentially leading to a more oligarchic economic system. The ensuing rationalisation in the production capacities of state companies leads to mass layoffs. Formal trade with the EU decreases while illicit trafficking receives an uptick. The brain drain phenomenon is not yet reversed, though there is a potential for further stabilisation which may lead diaspora to return in the future.

As a result of the economic situation, the new government is under immense pressure to show positive results. Despite infighting within the opposition and occasional street protests the government enjoys much higher legitimacy and more trust than the Lukashenko regime. Economic and societal pressures on the new government amplify the differences within the former opposition, of which only the moderate part has joined the government. Further opposition is formed by a more conservative part of society, which enjoyed a steady income and pensions under the former regime. Relatively free elections take place, but a fully functioning rule of law is not yet in place. The country moves towards a more democratic form of government, but state capture elements remain. It proves difficult to free institutions from clientelism and corruption and the question of the ‘lustration’ of public officials who served the Lukashenko regime divides the country.

The Russian Federation recognizes the new Belarusian leadership but actively undermines its efforts to build better relations with the EU. Russia eventually imposes sanctions when Belarus does not comply with the Union State agreements signed by Lukashenko. Relations between the two strongly deteriorate. Poland and Lithuania initiate an EU “Marshall plan” that partially offsets the loss of Russian subsidies, although the absorption capacity of Belarus remains low due to governance and rule of law challenges. The IMF, EBRD and other international financial institutions step in to stabilize the Belarusian economy but demand far-reaching structural reforms that prove difficult for the new leadership to implement.

Scenario 4: Incorporation

In the ‘Incorporation’ scenario, significant changes take place in the Belarusian leadership as Lukashenko and his regime are replaced by a pro-Russian political force following a tightly managed election. The country sees far-reaching integration with the Union State, losing its independence in all but name. The security forces and civil service have switched their allegiance to the new president and are integrated in Russian structures; those who disagree are replaced. High levels of repression continue and even intensify; the state retains the monopoly on the use of force. There is no room for divergent political opinions.

The regime is backed only by a minority of the population and has very little internal legitimacy left. The opposition has no real opportunity to participate in the political process. Any alternative views are only expressed through social media channels, as all media channels are brought under full state control. Certain underground groups begin a sporadic, guerrilla-like resistance against the authorities but do not succeed in significantly changing the status quo. Trade unions largely fall in line as well.

While cosmetic constitutional reforms are carried out, they do not make a marked difference as the Kremlin establishes control. Society largely opposes far-reaching integration into the Russian Federation but has no opportunity to halt the process. Emigration, especially amongst businesses and young talent, sharply increases. These developments spur a return of political apathy amongst citizens. Economically, Belarus becomes much more impoverished and is on Russian lifeline support. The more profitable state enterprises are taken over by Russian entrepreneurs. The others are liquidated, leading to socio-economic problems.

Geopolitically, the former multi-vector diplomacy of Belarus ceases to exist. The country becomes a de facto satellite state of the Russian Federation, recognizes Russian sovereignty over Crimea and breaks off diplomatic relations with Ukraine. The EU and the US do not recognize the outcome of the elections nor the new government. As a result, Belarus becomes even more isolated and enjoys only limited external legitimacy. Russia fully integrates Belarus into its military structures and establishes permanent military bases on its territory. This triggers more NATO deployments in Poland and the Baltic States, which in turn leads to a further build-up of Russian forces.

Implications and preferred scenarios for the different actors

As ‘potential futures’ these scenarios can be used to think strategically about possible implications for specific actors and by linking them to their objectives as outlined in previous chapters.

The ‘Muddle Through’ scenario is both the preferred scenario of Lukashenko himself and best reflects the pattern of interaction between Belarus, the EU and the Russian Federation over the last 25 years. However, it is doubtful whether both the EU and the Russian Federation will be content to eventually go back to ‘business as usual’; Russia will want to ‘cash in’ on Lukashenko’s relative weakness, while the EU would have to compromise significantly on its stated policies of upholding European values if it would re-engage with the current regime.

The ‘Reluctant Integration’ scenario is arguably the most compatible with the interests of two out of the three key actors, given Lukashenko’s desire to stay in power either upfront or behind the scenes, and Moscow’s reluctance to force through a regime change. The EU clearly does not prefer this scenario but lacks the leverage to avoid it from materialising, and still sees it as more palatable than a de facto incorporation of Belarus into the Russian Federation.

The ‘Change of Course’ scenario, whereby a more moderate government comes to power through relatively free and fair elections and pursues a more balanced foreign policy, is the preferred scenario of the European Union. This would not only meet the EU’s stated aim of ensuring that the Belarusian people can choose their own government; it would also allow the EU much more engagement with Belarus than before. For Lukashenko this is obviously the least desired scenario, and one he will go to great lengths to avoid. The same applies to the Russian Federation, especially if the authorities pursue a much more pro-Western course than their predecessor.

The ‘Incorporation’ scenario, while in principle desirable for the Russian Federation from a zero-sum geopolitical perspective, sharply goes against the interests of both the Lukashenko regime and the EU. Both will work to prevent this scenario. It could also prove costly for Russia to prop up the struggling Belarusian economy and would lead to a further deterioration of relations between Russia and the West, especially if the latter begins to align its sanction regimes against both countries.

Table 1
Summary of the consequences of the different scenarios


Muddle Through

Reluctant Integration

Change of Course


Regime stability and degree of integration with the RF

Lukashenko regime remains in power and makes ‘just enough’ concessions, largely in the military domain, but keeps the option open to backtrack at a later date.

Lukashenko regime makes far-reaching concessions in order to stay in power, including in the economic dimension; integration becomes largely irreversible.

New, moderate authorities try to pull out of some Union State commitments

New pro-Russian authorities sign away most of Belarus’ sovereignty


Regime makes largely symbolic human rights concessions. EU eventually “critically re-engages” and lifts most sanctions. RF keeps on the pressure and Minsk-Moscow relations sour once again

Lukashenko escalates anti-Western rhetoric and policies, leading to further isolation and alignment with Russian foreign and security policy. EU largely breaks off relations.

New authorities try to rebalance their foreign policy; EU engages & supports, RF actively obstructs

Belarus for all practical purposes becomes a satellite state of the RF, with no independent foreign policy.


Belarus-Russia close security cooperation will continue, largely within the current institutional frameworks. Belarus will not sever formal links to NATO and the EU.

Belarus will sign up to a joint State Union military doctrine, and existing cooperation levels will increase. NATO and EU effectively sidelined.

New opportunities for developing cooperation with NATO and the EU, although conservative elements in Belarus’ security establishment and Russian pressure will limit its scope.

Belarus becomes a fully-fledged extension of Russia’s Western Military District, including permanent stationing of RF troops and military infrastructure.


Lukashenko will remain economically dependent on RF, relying on energy contracts to sustain the Belarusian economy.

Lukashenko remains economically dependent on energy contracts with RF. Lukashenko is forced to liberalise parts of the market to increase Russian ownership.

The new authorities liberalise the Belarusian market. The transition to a market economy is accompanied by a temporary but serious recession.

The Belarusian economy is merged with the RF. Belarus’ weak economic performance destabilises the Russian market.

Actor preference

Preferred by Lukashenko, acceptable to the RF, problematic for the EU

Acceptable to the RF and Lukashenko, problematic for the EU

Preferred by the EU, unacceptable to the RF and Lukashenko

Preferred by (parts of) the RF, unacceptable for Lukashenko and the EU