Eastern Europe

Will Belarus Join Forces With Russia In Ukraine?

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Kyiv fears that Belarus could soon join Russia and invade certain parts of Western Ukraine. The Belarusian Armed Forces have recently begun holding military drills near the Ukrainian border, while Moscow continues supplying weapons to its only ally in Europe.

In May, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said that his country had bought Iskander nuclear-capable missiles, as well as S-400 anti-aircraft anti-missile systems from Russia. In the coming months, according to Russian President Vladimir Putin, Moscow will transfer to Belarus Iskander-M tactical missile systems which can use ballistic or cruise missiles in their conventional and nuclear versions. In other words, both Russia and Belarus are preparing for a potential escalation of the Ukraine conflict.

Kyiv, for its part, claims Ukraine came under “massive bombardment” on June 26. According to Ukrainian military, twenty rockets targeted the village of Desna in the northern Chernigiv region, which borders Belarus. It remains unclear, however, if it was Russian or Belarusian army that conducted the strikes. Ukrainian intelligence officials also said that the attacks were “directly related to the Kremlin’s attempt to draw Belarus into the war in Ukraine as a direct participant”. 

According to some Ukrainian reports, Russian forces are increasing their presence in Belarus, namely, military aviation. Indeed, reports suggest that Russia significantly increased the number of airstrikes on Ukraine from Belarusian territory, although there is no evidence that the Kremlin aims to deploy troops to the former Soviet republic in the near future. The problem for Moscow is that Belarusian soldiers have no combat experience and are not motivated to fight, which means that they will unlikely launch an attack on Ukraine on their own. 

In addition, the Belarusian army does not have enough troops to fight a war against its southern neighbor. Some experts believe that Minsk has only around 12,000-15,000 troops that could take part in a possible invasion, which is far from enough for any serious large-scale operations. Moreover, the Belarusian army consists of conscripts, and it is entirely possible that many of them would surrender to Ukrainian forces in case they are forced to cross the border and fight.

Still, Ukrainian authorities remains vigilant. It is worth remembering that on February 24 Russia did not have enough troops to seize Ukraine, but it still launched a full-scale invasion. Thus, if pressured by the Kremlin, Lukashenko could eventually join Moscow’s “special military operation”, even though the price Minsk would have to pay would be very high. 

There are indications that Minsk has already started preparations for such an adventure. The Belarusian army recently started conducting mobilization exercises along the Ukrainian border, while some opposition media claim that a new batch of Russian rocket launchers for the S-300 air defense system has arrived in Belarus. 

The primary goal of military drills is to pin down Ukrainian units on the northern border instead of redeploying them to the Donbass or to southern parts of Ukraine. But wars are usually unpredictable, and there is no guarantee that Belarusian forces will not eventually cross the border and try to occupy certain parts of Western Ukraine. That is why Ukraine’s lawmakers have proposed to establish mine fields on the country’s borders with Belarus and Russia, which means that Kyiv takes a potential threat from its northern neighbor very seriously. 

There are also fears in Kyiv that the Kremlin could stage a false flag operation and blow up residential buildings in the Belarusian city of Mozyr, which Lukashenko could use as a formal pretext to join Russia in its war against Ukraine.

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“Russia’s military intelligence agency (GRU) is planning to conduct a series of artillery and missile strikes on the Mozyr Oil Refinery, as well as civilian infrastructure and residential buildings. The attacks will be accompanied by explosions in residential buildings, hospitals and schools”, Ukrainian intelligence said

Lukashenko, on the other hand, stressed on June 17 that it is Ukraine that allegedly plans to strike Mozyr. 

 “We are not going to go anywhere until Ukraine crosses the red line. Once it crosses our border or targets Mozyr Oil Refinery, we will respond immediately. They will understand that if they hit Mozyr, then we will hit Kyiv without going inside Ukraine”, Belarusian leader stressed.

In order to prevent such actions, Belarus has reportedly started forming people’s militias, which could be described as a reserve force of the country’s territorial defense forces. More importantly, at the end of May Lukashenko announced the creation of a southern operational command, pointing out that what is happening in Belarus is a wartime condition, but without war for now.

Given the war in Ukraine will unlikely end anytime soon, chances for Belarus to get directly involved in the Kremlin’s “special military operation” will continue to grow. 

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