Belarus blows against Ukraine

Belarus exercises and has tough statements with the West, but this is considered a blow for Minsk, because President Lukashenko is unlikely to send troops into Ukraine.

This month, the Belarusian Defense Ministry held large-scale military exercises in three regions of the country, including the area near the border with Poland and Ukraine. Belarusian soldiers, with Russian support, practice the situation of “liberating territory temporarily occupied by the enemy” and regaining control of border areas.

The move sparked speculation that Belarus could step up its support for the Russian military campaign, even sending troops into Ukraine. General Oleksii Hromov, deputy director of the Operations Department of the General Staff of the Ukrainian Army, said that the exercise is likely to simulate an attempt to capture some Ukrainian territory near the border with Belarus.

“Most likely the ‘lost territory’ they are talking about is the Ukrainian border regions such as Volyn, Rivne and Zhytomyr,” Hromov said, noting that the Ukrainian military was ready for any eventuality.

During the Ukraine conflict, President Alexander Lukashenko allowed Russia to use Belarusian territory to conduct hundreds of airstrikes against targets in Ukraine. However, Mr. Lukashenko did not send troops to Ukraine to support Russia, Belarus’s closest ally.

Location of Belarus.  Graphics: Washington Post.

Location of Belarus. Graphics: Washington Post.

After the latest Belarusian exercises, many questioned whether Minsk intends to change tactics and deploy troops to Ukraine to support Moscow’s military campaign, especially when Russian forces have recently had to constantly retreated after Kiev’s blitzkrieg counterattack. Last month, Lukashenko said that the Belarusian fighter jet had been adapted to be capable of carrying nuclear weapons under the agreement with Russia. He warned the US and its allies against taking “provocative actions” against Belarus, noting that Minsk “has already selected targets for retaliation”.

However, Tatsiana Kulakevich, a researcher at the Institute for Russian, European and Eurasian Studies at the University of South Florida, said that Belarus has many reasons not to send troops into Ukraine and that the exercise is just a “wind”. of Minsk aimed at Kiev.

According to Kulakevich, if he sent troops to Ukraine, President Lukashenko would risk losing control of his armed forces.

Any military units sent to Ukraine by Belarus will be subject to the command of Russian officers. This move, combined with the trend of deepening cooperation between the two countries, could promote the possibility of economic integration, military structure as well as politics between Russia and Belarus.

In 1999, President Lukashenko signed an agreement with then-Russian President Boris Yeltsin to forge economic and political unification between the two countries, but the agreement was not fully implemented. Experts estimate that the agreement will reduce Lukashenko’s power if fully implemented.

However, cooperation between Russia and Belarus has deepened significantly since 2020, when President Vladimir Putin assisted Belarus in suppressing large-scale protests against the election results. Lukashenko’s decision to receive support from Russia is seen as a major turning point after years of trying to follow a policy of balancing East-West.

Russian military vehicles prepare to leave the platform after arriving in Belarus in January. Photo: AP.

Russian military vehicles prepare to leave the platform after arriving in Belarus in January. Photo: AP.

In November 2021, along with economic and energy agreements, the leaders of Russia and Belarus adopted a new joint military doctrine. Then, in February of this year, Moscow and Minsk held joint exercises near the border between Belarus and Ukraine, creating the perfect excuse for Russia to send about 30,000 troops into neighboring territory and prepare for war. Ukraine epidemic on 24/2.

However, Lukashenko has actively demilitarized the Belarusian army since the outbreak of the Ukrainian military conflict, by transferring military equipment and ammunition to Putin. By August, Russia had received more than 12,000 tons of ammunition from Belarus. These steps relieve pressure on Mr. Lukashenko to mobilize the army to directly participate in the operation in Ukraine.

“Such measures probably reflect Mr. Lukashenko’s wariness about the possibility of the Belarusian army being under Russian command, should it send troops to Ukraine. Because that would create an opportunity for Moscow to establish the current status quo. long-term military presence in Belarus, leading to the possibility of weakening Lukashenko’s power,” Kulakevich said.

The second reason is that the sanctions have weakened support from domestic allies of Mr. Lukashenko, according to Kulakevich.

President Lukashenko is in power, but some people close to his cabinet appear to oppose supporting Russia’s war in Ukraine. The protracted military conflict in Ukraine has led to continued punitive pressure on the Belarusian economy and business leaders, as well as sanctions targeting the country’s military leaders.

In April, Mr. Lukashenko tried to hold secret talks with the West but failed. On April 6, Belarusian Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei secretly sent a letter asking the European Union countries to abandon the policy of sanctions and restore dialogue with Belarus. However, the EU did not respond and the letter was leaked to the media.

Another reason why it is difficult for Mr. Lukashenko to mobilize troops to fight in Ukraine is that the people of Belarus do not support the Russian war.

The majority of Belarusians do not want their country to participate in the war against Ukraine. According to a Chatham House poll in August, only 5% of Belarusians support sending troops to support Russia, while 2% want Minsk to side with Kiev. About 70% of Belarusians said they opposed joining the conflict.

Lukashenko’s calls for peace reflect the wishes of much of the country’s public. Keeping the military away from the war allowed Mr. Lukashenko to assuage public grievances following the 2020 presidential election, in which many accused him of rigging the election.

At the same time, Belarusians also showed solidarity with Ukraine. On March 26, about 200 Belarusian volunteers joined the Kastus Kalinouski battalion, named after a 19th century Belarusian writer and revolutionary, and took the oath to join the Ukrainian armed forces. Two months later, on May 21, the battalion announced its expansion into a regiment.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko (outside) and Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin, Moscow in September 2021.  Photo: AFP.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko (outside) and Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin, Moscow in September 2021. Image: AFP.

Researcher Tatsiana Kulakevich said the ultimate cause is Belarus does not have the excess military force to support Russia.

The majority of soldiers serving in the Belarusian army are conscripts, so many of them may just be interested in completing the required time. The number of professional soldiers in Belarus is only about 45,500 people, less than 1% of the population.

“The Belarusian military can clearly understand that any soldier sent to fight in Ukraine can refuse to serve or try to defect,” Kulakevich said.

Belarus’ special forces, estimated at 4,000-6,000 men, play an important role in the country. In 2020, along with the police, this force took an active part in suppressing the protests. As a result, observers say that Mr. Lukashenko cannot give up this army because they help ensure his power.

After Russia announced a partial mobilization order on September 21, it was reported that Belarus would also issue a mobilization order. President Lukashenko later denied, saying this was fake news spread by opponents of the government.

“With a weaker balance of power than Russia, President Lukashenko has little choice but to listen to the demands of Moscow. However, the Belarus leader’s reluctance to send troops to Ukraine shows that he is acutely aware. that it is necessary to maintain a certain distance from Russia,” said researcher Kulakevich.

Thanh Tam (Theo Washington Post)

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