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Lukashenko (L) and Putin on the ice earlier this year. Photo: Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images

With Vladimir Putin's presidential mandate expiring in 2024, there's growing speculation he'll try to hold on to power by forming a Russia-Belarus union and placing himself in charge.

Why it matters: It's a distinct possibility given Putin's penchant for using legalistic steps to maintain a semblance of legitimacy. But it's not just about Putin’s job security — the Kremlin is waging a "creeping assault" on its neighbor's sovereignty and will take whatever steps it deems necessary to keep Belarus in its orbit, according to new research discussed today at the German Marshall Fund.

  • The groundwork is being laid though a misinformation campaign with links to the Kremlin. One frequent claim is that the Belarusian identity is a recent invention, promoted by the West to weaken Russia.
  • Russia-linked outlets are better funded and in many cases more trusted than local competitors, which have suffered under longtime strongman Alexander Lukashenko. That allows Russian propaganda to spread.
  • Polls show that few Belarusians are currently in favor of joining Russia, though most want close ties to Moscow.

A Ukraine-style military confrontation is unlikely, the experts said. Two scenarios were raised for how a union could be secured:

  • Lukashenko is coerced into allowing constitutional changes, or a unity referendum.
  • Something happens to Lukashenko and a pliant pro-Moscow regime is installed.

What to watch: Russia would also intervene if its "red lines" in Belarus are crossed, the experts said. Those include threats to military cooperation or the flow of Russian oil and gas through Belarus, and deeper Belarusian economic integration with Europe.

Go deeper

Updated 13 mins ago - Health

2 federal judges temporarily block Biden vaccine mandates

President Biden delivers remarks on the Omicron COVID-19 variant at the White House on Nov. 29. Photo: Anna Moneymaker via Getty Images

The Biden administration was temporarily blocked from enforcing COVID-19 vaccine mandates for millions of workers by federal judges in two states on Tuesday.

The big picture: The orders, by federal judges in Kentucky and Louisiana, come one day after a federal judge in Missouri halted the mandate, which has a Jan. 4 deadline, in 10 states.

44 mins ago - World

Honduras elects first female president

Honduran President-elect Xiomara Castro, of the Libertad y Refundacion (Libre) Party, in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, on Sunday. Photo: Inti Ocon/Getty Images

Former Honduras first lady Xiomara Castro is set to become the country's first female president president, after the ruling party conceded defeat in the country's elections on Tuesday night, per AP.

Why it matters: The democratic socialist and her Libre Party have broken a 12-year run for the conservative National Party, which U.S. prosecutors alleged fostered a "narco-state," note Axios' Latinos' Marina E. Franco and Russell Contreras.

Food delivery "ghost kitchens" face major obstacles

Photo: Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The growing popularity of food delivery has given rise to startups that open "ghost kitchens" — kitchens in warehouses or trailers that prepare food solely for delivery and have no option to dine in.

  • But they can come with a whole host of problems.

The big picture: The concept of "ghost kitchens" has been dubbed the next big thing in the future of services, with high profile backers like Uber founder Travis Kalanick. But these kitchens can be hard to run or unsafe.