The Cable

Belarus Is Going to “War” — With a Fake Country

A made-up nation created for Belarusian-Russian military drills has sparked the national imagination.

(FILES) Picture taken on September 24, 2009 shows Belarussian soldiers near an S-300 surface-to-air missile complex using during the joint Russian-Belarussian military exercises "West-2009" some 230km southwest of Minsk near the village of Volka. Russia has arrested a Chinese national who was trying to secure secret documents about the country's S-300 missile systems, the FSB federal security service said on October 2011. The man, identified in Russian as Tung Shen-Yun, worked as an official translator and was originally arrested on October 28, 2010, Russian news agencies quoted an FSB statement as saying.     AFP PHOTO / VIKTOR DRACHEV (Photo credit should read VIKTOR DRACHEV/AFP/Getty Images)
(FILES) Picture taken on September 24, 2009 shows Belarussian soldiers near an S-300 surface-to-air missile complex using during the joint Russian-Belarussian military exercises "West-2009" some 230km southwest of Minsk near the village of Volka. Russia has arrested a Chinese national who was trying to secure secret documents about the country's S-300 missile systems, the FSB federal security service said on October 2011. The man, identified in Russian as Tung Shen-Yun, worked as an official translator and was originally arrested on October 28, 2010, Russian news agencies quoted an FSB statement as saying. AFP PHOTO / VIKTOR DRACHEV (Photo credit should read VIKTOR DRACHEV/AFP/Getty Images)

Belarus has a new enemy: a fictional nation known as Veyshnoria.

Minsk is gearing up to hold military drills with Russia in mid-September. As part of the joint exercises, expected to be the largest since the Cold War, the Belarusian military invented three imaginary countries trying to invade and weaken the relationship between the two allies: Veyshnoria, in the northwest region of modern-day Belarus; Vesbaria, set in Lithuania; and Lubenia in Poland.

Veyshnoria quickly took on a geopolitical life of its own on the internet. Facebook users created a flag, map, and coat of arms for the country. Hundreds signed up to a website launched for Belarusians wishing to apply for Veyshnorian citizenship. A Wikipedia page now details Veyshnoria’s origins.

Much of the activity is driven by a satirical Twitter account purporting to be the country’s foreign ministry. It sends out a stream of joke policy statements — like declaring a partial mobilization in reaction to concerns of a Belarusian arms buildup on Veyshnoria’s borders — and interacts with a parody Twitter account of the Russian Foreign Ministry.

The account also promised that Belarusian troops who surrender will be treated well, offering them “stew, honey, bread, and lard.”

The flurry of jokes comes as Russia, Belarus’s overbearing sibling, continues to escalate tension with its NATO neighbors, using Belarus as its backyard. In a show of military prowess and intimidation, Moscow may send up to 100,000 troops to the upcoming Zapad military exercises and has requisitioned enough rail cars to transport 4,000 loads of tanks and other heavy equipment to Belarus. The drills will also include the 1st Guards Tank Army, a reconstituted armored force named for a storied Soviet military unit.

Analysts suspect that, besides sending a message to NATO, the beefed-up exercises may also be Russia’s bid to keep Belarus, a key buffer zone to the West, in line. Recent reports hint at tensions between the two countries and indicate the country’s leader, Alexander Lukashenko, is reluctant to host more Russian troops permanently.

The recent tensions bled into comments about Veyshnoria on social media as some tried to imagine the fake country’s backstory. “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,” Pavel Usov, a political historian, wrote on Facebook.

Photo credit: VIKTOR DRACHEV/AFP/Getty Images

Kavitha Surana is an editorial fellow at Foreign Policy, where she produces breaking news and original reports with a particular focus on immigration, counterterrorism, and border security policy. Previously, Kavitha worked at New York magazine’s Bedford + Bowery blog, CNNMoney, The Associated Press in Italy, and Fareed Zakaria GPS and has freelanced from Italy and Germany for publications like Quartz, Al Jazeera America, OZY, and GlobalPost/PRI. In 2015, she was awarded a Fulbright trip to Germany, as well as a grant from the Heinrich Böll Foundation to report on migration and integration. She also reported from Rwanda and Senegal. Kavitha studied European history at Columbia University and holds a master’s degree in journalism and European studies from New York University. She has studied in Italy and Peru and speaks Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and French. @ksurana6

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