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

Uber to buy Postmates in $2.65 billion deal

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Uber has agreed to acquire food delivery company Postmates for $2.65 billion in an all-stock deal, the companies announced Monday.

Why it matters: This is the latest merger for the food delivery space as the sector undergoes an ongoing market consolidation.

Analysts expect soaring stock market despite slashed earnings forecasts

Data: FactSet; Chart: Axios Visuals

Despite cutting expectations for companies' earnings by the most in history and revenue by the most since 2009, Wall Street analysts are getting increasingly bullish on the overall direction of the U.S. stock market.

What's happening: Equity analysts are expecting earnings in the second quarter to fall by 43.8% — the most since 2008's fourth quarter 69.1% decline.

Case growth outpacing testing in coronavirus hotspots

Data: The COVID Tracking Project. Note: Vermont and Hawaii were not included because they have fewer than 20 cases per day. Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

The United States' alarming rise in coronavirus cases isn't due to increased testing — particularly not where cases have grown fastest over the last month.

Why it matters: The U.S. doesn't yet know what it looks like when a pandemic rages on relatively unchecked after the health system has become overwhelmed. It may be about to find out.