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Belarus declares war on imaginary country within borders of Belarus that is better than Belarus

Fed-up citizens join fictional opposition in their hundreds

The former Soviet republic of Belarus has declared war on an imaginary country that exists within its own borders.

The unprecedented move – which to be honest sounds no more or less mad than most of the rest of the news in these increasingly interesting times – has come about due to a series of war games called Zapad 2017, set to take place between September 14 and 20.

The scenario for these exercises involve Belarusian and Russian forces facing a combined invasion by three imaginary nations on Belarus's borders: Vesbaria (which occupies the territory of real-life Lithuania), Lubenia (which equates to Poland) and Veyshnoria, which in the war game scenario occupies a space in the northwest of Belarus itself.

Though the invention of imaginary states for military purposes is not in itself unusual, it generally does not go well diplomatically if you regularly pretend to crush your neighbours' armed forces after overtly suggesting they have designs on your territory.

But IHS Markit analyst Alex Kokcharov has noted that the borders of Veyshnoria correlate to the area of Belarus most politically hostile to the country's president, self-styled authoritarian dictator Alexander Lukashenko, suggesting that the dear leader considers this dissent to be unacceptable and deserving of the threat of military recriminations.

However, if Lukashenko was hoping that the creation of this existential threat within the bosom of the motherland would unite his people in nationalist fervour, it seems he may be disappointed. Instead, the Belarusian population have seemingly taken the nascent nation to heart, furnishing it with its own flag, history, foreign ministry (complete with satirical Twitter account) and Wikipedia page.

This enthusiasm may possibly be due to Belarus's reputation for authoritarian government and rigged elections, the systematic suppression of political dissent, a woeful human rights record and positions close to the bottom of indexes for democratic, economic and press freedoms.

It may therefore not be surprising that a website set up to offer Veyshnorian citizenship to Belarusian nationals received hundreds of applications, no doubt encouraged by a tweet from the fictional country's foreign ministry page that, according to the BBC, offered a reward of "stew, honey, bread and lard" to Belarusian soldiers willing to surrender.

In a region still nervous over Russian expansionist policies in Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia, it is alarmingly believable that a country set up as a bogeyman enemy state could later be satirically described by political historian Pavel Usov as "a peaceful democratic country which has never been aggressive towards its neighbours". After all, the demonisation process seems to work perfectly well in the other direction.

Usov's suggestion for Russia's interference and belligerence is similarly convincing:

It is likely that Moscow provoked a conflict between Minsk and Giradis (the capital of Veyshnoria) in order to fully establish control over Belarus and not allow Veyshnoria to join NATO and the EU.

The issue for Lukashenko may not be how he deals militarily with the combined might of Veyshnoria, Vesbaria and Lubenia, as their fate will have been sealed before the first shot was fired.

His bigger problem is now that he has created this imaginary nation so much more appealing than the real thing, how does he make the idea of it go away? ®

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