Russia has begun moving troops into Belarus, Ukraine’s northern neighbor, for joint military exercises, in a move likely to heighten fears in the West that Moscow is preparing for an invasion.
The joint military exercises, called United Resolve, will take place as Russia also gathers forces along Ukraine’s eastern border, threatening a possible invasion that could spark Europe’s biggest conflict in decades.
Social media videos from Belarus appeared to show artillery and other military vehicles arriving on flatcars owned by the Russian state railway company, and Alexander Volfovich, head of Belarus’s security council, told a briefing that troops already they were arriving before the exercises scheduled for February. .
Some military analysts have suggested that Russia could send its forces through Belarus in the event of a wide-ranging invasion, effectively extending Ukraine’s defenses by taking advantage of the two countries’ nearly 700-mile border. Others believe that Belarus would not play a serious role in the conflict if Russia launched an attack on Ukraine.
The Belarusian leader has responded to international pressure and isolation by strengthening ties with Russia, providing vocal support for Putin’s military buildup while receiving diplomatic and economic support from the Kremlin to fight Western sanctions. He also abandoned his country’s supposedly neutral stance on the Ukraine conflict and publicly backed Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.
The exercises will be held in western Belarus, near the borders of NATO members Poland and Lithuania, and their southern flank with Ukraine, Lukashenko said.
“Set an exact date and let us know, so that we are not blamed for massing some troops here out of the blue as if we were preparing to go to war,” he told senior military officials.
Reports from Russia have also shown more military equipment, including tanks and short-range ballistic missiles, being transported across the country to Ukraine in the past week.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said ahead of a meeting with her Russian counterpart on Tuesday that she hoped tensions could be resolved diplomatically, but that Moscow would otherwise pay a “high price” for aggressive acts toward Ukraine. .
No concrete troop numbers or timeframes have been named for the joint Russia-Belarus exercises, which Putin announced during a summit with Lukashenko in late December. Lukashenko said on Monday that the exact dates in February were still being determined.
He said during the briefing that the exercises were necessary due to the presence of NATO forces in neighboring Poland and the Baltic states, as well as Ukraine’s deployment of troops to the border in response to the migration crisis it helped create. last year.
“Why are we and Russia reproached for conducting maneuvers, exercises and so on when you come from far away?” Lukashenko said in heated comments in which he said Western countries had stationed some 30,000 soldiers near his country’s borders. “There are some hotheads who call for war. We listen to these statements.”
He also echoed aggressive rhetoric from the Kremlin that can be used to justify a military intervention in Ukraine, claiming that Kiev was preparing battalions of “radical nationalists”. A Ukrainian official called the comments manipulative and “part of an information war.”
Volfovich said the exercises would involve Belarusian and Russian soldiers trained to repel air and ground attacks, neutralize enemy saboteurs and practice other maneuvers. He also downplayed the importance of their timing, saying there was “nothing extraordinary” about them because they were announced late last year, according to a report by the state-run Belta news agency.
However, there are signs that Belarus has taken a more active role in supporting Russia in its ongoing conflict with Ukraine and the West.
Kiev initially said it believed a hacking team linked to Belarusian state intelligence may have played a role in a major cyberattack on government websites late last week, and Russian nuclear-capable bombers recently flew over western Belarus.
Lukashenko has strengthened ties with Putin since 2020, when he launched a bloody crackdown on protests sparked by vote-rigging during the presidential election. He was driven further into international isolation after he grounded a RyanAir flight to arrest a critic of his government and helped fabricate a migration crisis at EU borders, sparking a humanitarian emergency.
Belarus took an ostensibly neutral position in 2014 and avoided recognizing Russia’s annexation of Crimea, but the dynamic has changed considerably as the country has become more reliant on Russian diplomatic and material support in the past two years.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism