Belarus is trapped in Putin’s plans

The recent rise in military engagement between Russia and Belarus on Belarusian land could be an attempt to pull Ukrainian forces from the south to the north. However, Russia might create new attack groups in two to three months to try yet another offensive along the northern border with Ukraine. 

Oleksii Hromov, the deputy chief of the Main Operational Department of the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, made this statement on November 3 during a press conference.

Late in October, Kyrylo Budanov, the head of intelligence at the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, stated in an interview that Russia might be preparing a new invasion from the north after losing Kherson.

Russian military deployment in Belarus

Following the meeting between Putin and Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko on September 26–27, Ukraine is concerned about a fresh Russian invasion of Belarusian territory. More Russian troops were swiftly dispatched to Belarus shortly after this conference. 

Additionally, Lukashenko and Belarusian security and defense officials have raised their rhetoric against Ukraine, portraying it as a growing threat and attempting to justify the country’s military operations.

To intensify its airstrikes against Ukraine in the following months, Russia sent more jets and drones to Belarus in October. Russia already sent its MiG-31k Foxhound aircraft last week, possibly with the support of hypersonic AS-24 Killjoy ballistic missiles.

Early in October, Belarus raised its military presence along its border with Ukraine, but between October 15 and October 22, it again reduced that deployment significantly. The equipment was delivered back to the locations of long-term deployment.

According to a political analyst from Ukraine, Russia has been “disarming” Belarus all year. During the planning stages for the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February, most Russian ammunition was delivered to Belarus. Since April, Belarus has started exporting weapons to Russia instead of receiving anything. Between March and September, Belarus shipped 65,089 munitions to Russia in 1940 wagons.

Along with ammo, Belarus has sent Russia a ton of military equipment. Belarus provided at least 94 T-72A tanks, 36–44 Ural trucks, BMP-2 infantry fighting vehicles, and Tor-M2 surface-to-air missile launchers in October. The “disarmament” of Belarus’ arsenals suggests that Belarus is not getting ready to go to war.

War rhetoric of the Belarusian leadership

In the past several weeks, security and defense authorities in Belarus have stepped up their war rhetoric against Western nations and Ukraine and accused Kyiv of staging provocations.

Ivan Tertel, the chief of Belarus’ security service KGB, asserted last Tuesday, November 1, that the KGB was aware of Polish invasion intentions. The following day, Viktor Khrenin, Belarus’ minister of defense, claimed that the country’s recent rise in military activity was just a reaction to “the acts of our opponents.”

Several political analysts agreed that Lukashenko wouldn’t send Belarusian forces to Ukraine. As he underlined last week: “Today they are spinning this idea that “Lukashenko intends to send his servicemen to Ukraine!” and he claims that no “I’ve said a thousand times previously that I don’t have any such plans.”

These claims made by Lukashenko are typically accepted as fact. He is happy to give Russia weapons, ammunition, and even permission to launch an attack on Ukraine from Belarusian territory. But he is reluctant to send his soldiers into battle.

There are various reasons for this concern, including that neither the military nor the general public in Belarus strongly supports Belarusian troops fighting abroad. Additionally, Belarus’ military weapons are in worse condition than Russia’s, and the army there severely lacks battle experience.

On the Ukrainian side in the north, close to the border with Belarus, roads have been blocked, certain routes have been mined, bridges have been destroyed, and Ukrainian forces have strengthened their positions. Thus, today’s circumstances make it more difficult to invade Ukraine from Belarus than on February 24.

Lukashenko relies on the military for protection in the event of new nationwide mass protests. Hence he needs them close by.

Putin’s scenario for Belarus

Lukashenko has enabled Russia to increase its military presence there significantly to keep its forces out of Ukraine. Lukashenko has consistently opposed the establishment of a permanent Russian military base on Belarusian soil. Although Russia still has no permanent military base in Belarus, Lukashenko cannot prevent Russia from sending thousands of troops there or even from waging war from Belarusian land.

Following Lukashenko’s rescue from the anti-government demonstrations in Belarus in 2020, the Kremlin started gradually but undoubtedly binding Belarus more closely to itself politically and economically. The Kremlin didn’t have to work that hard in 2021. By isolating Belarus from the West by forcing Ryanair Flight FR4978 to arrest an opposition journalist and by inciting a migration crisis at the EU border, Lukashenko accomplished his goal.

Due to current Western sanctions, the only option for Belarusian businesses in Russia. To support the survival of its economy, the Belarusian government must regularly negotiate trade agreements with the Russian commercial and public sectors.

Putin successfully removed Belarus from its prior “neutral status” and firmly established Kremlin power over its politics, economy, and military. 

The Verkhovna Rada, the Ukrainian parliament, posted a draft resolution on October 22 that calls for declaring Belarus to be de facto occupied by Russia.

Putin escalates the conflict

Last week, the UN representative for Poland warned the UN Security Council that “there would be no permanent stability in our neighborhood without the democratization of Belarus.” Other nations on Nato’s eastern flank that have also had to cope with the consequences of the Belarusian regime’s political repressions since 2020 and the migrant crisis since 2021 are likely to share Poland’s viewpoint on this issue.

This means that when Russia continues to expand its military presence in Belarus, the security situation in Eastern and Central Europe will likely continue to be unstable, regardless of the outcome in Ukraine.

By doing this, Putin expands the scope of the fight and presumably seeks to clarify its description as a conflict between global liberal and anti-liberal forces. Long-term, this also causes the war to worsen and eventually reach a global scale.

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