In an article published last summer on the website of the presidential administration of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin insisted on the unity of the Russian and Ukrainian peoples, urging the authorities in Kiev to return to Moscow the Donbass and Transcarpathia regions that Ukraine would have acquired after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. Today, more than 7 months after the appearance of this article, the possibility of an armed conflict between the two states seems to increase as Russia has merged tens of thousands of troops on the border with Ukraine, alerting the international community. But one question arises: Is it possible to launch a Russian military operation against Kyiv from the territory of the Republic of Belarus?
Belarus and Russia have signed a new Union State Military Doctrine
The preparations of a possible Russian attack on the territory of Belarus against Ukraine seems to have begun immediately after the joint military exercises Zapad 2021, held between 10th and 16th September, as a month later, during the meeting of the Supreme State Council of the Union State, Aleksandr Lukashenko and Vladimir Putin signed a new military doctrine of the Union State, replacing the old one, in force since December 2001. Although it remained unpublished, statements of the Belarusian officials involved in the negotiations attest that the new document had been adopted as a result of the possibility of NATO’s eastward expansion perceived as a threat to the security of both states. The secretary of state of the Union State Dmitry Mezentsev, emphasized that „the doctrine will increase the coherence of Belarus and Russia’s defense policy, taking into account the changes in the regional military-political situation and unprecedented pressure on Minsk and Moscow,” while Andrei Rusakovich, the deputy chair of the Commission of the Council of the Republic of the National Assembly of Belarus on International Affairs and National Security argued that the new strategic doctrine had been adopted to counter new security threats in Europe including NATO’s eastward expansion, terrorism and cyberattacks. He also confirmed in an interview with Eurasia Expert that at the same meeting on November 4th, the presidents of Belarus and Russia signed another two agreements regarding the bilateral military cooperation as well as the extension of the stationing of Russian radar units in Baranovichi and Vileika until 2024, thus emphasizing the West’s fears of a military operation by the two countries in the event of a conflict between Russia and Ukraine.
Belarus announces military drills with Russia near Ukraine border
The possibility of holding new joint military exercises on the territory of Belarus this year was first discussed on December 29th, 2021 at the initiative of Aleksandr Lukashenko during a summit with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin held in St. Petersburg. Less than a month after visiting the northern capital of Russia, in a meeting with officials from the Belarusian army, Europe’s last dictator endorsed the plan for conducting new military drills alongside the Russian Federation citing the increase in the number of NATO troops near the Belarusian borders. Lukashenko said that: „According to the data as of now, over 30,000 troops with military hardware and armaments are amassed in Poland on the border with Belarus and in the Baltic states.” Moreover, he claimed that Poland had asked the North Atlantic organization to deploy a logistical and technical support system in Warsaw, which justifies the organization of military exercises between Belarus and Russia to test the reaction capacity of the State Union in the event of an armed conflict launched by the West.
At the same time, Aleksandr Lukashenko characterized the situation in Ukraine as alarming given that, according to him, “the authorities in Kiev have mobilized at the border with Belarus a military contingent of more than 10,000 radical, nationalist soldiers under the pretext of combating illegal migration.” However, the Belarusian president’s statement is not surprising given that only last year he had officially recognized the annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation, although until then it had remained neutral in its conflict with Ukraine, which allowed him to host in the country’s capital the peace negotiations between the two states concluded by the signing of the Minsk Agreements in 2014. Moreover Lukashenko described the military drills that the two armies are to carry out in February this year as normal and necessary for drawing up a plan on a potential confrontation with the West (Poland, Lithuania and Latvia) in the North and Ukraine in the south of the country. Shortly after his statements however, Artom Dektiarenko, Chairman of the Security Service of Ukraine described them as “political manipulations that do not correspond to reality.” He declared this in a communique of Ukrainskaya Pravda, without pronouncing Lukashenko’s name, but characterizing him as a pro-Kremlin leader, a representative of a satellite state of Russia, a sign that after 2020, Ukraine has also changed the way it interacts with Aleksandr Lukashenko, following a policy similar to that of the West, thus not recognizing him as the legitimate president of Belarus.
The name of the military drills between Belarus and Russia, “Allied Resolve 2022” (Союзная решимость 2022), was announced by the Deputy Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Belarus, Pavel Muraveyko, during the same meeting with Aleksandr Lukashenko on January 17th. At the press conference following the meeting, the official said that the militarization of Belarus ‘ neighbors and the increase of NATO’s military contingent near the Belarusian borders are causing concern among the Minsk establishment and require an adequate and transparent response by conducting rapid reaction tests of the State Union forces together with Russia. For his part, the Chief of the General Staff of the Belarusian Armed Forces, Viktor Gulevich, reiterated that the presence of troops of the North Atlantic Organization on the territory of the states neighbouring Belarus represents a threat to the country’s national security and specified some of the tasks to be fulfilled through military exercises together with the army of the Russian Federation, including the protection of the Union State in the southern operational area, combating sabotage and reconnaissance groups and illegal armed formations as well as testing the military logistic system in order to ensure regrouping over long distances. In an attempt to calm down the West highly concerned about the possibility of a Russian attack from Belarus, the country’s Defense Minister Viktor Khrenin said in a post on the institution’s Telegram account that the military exercises, which will be held in Belarus will be purely defensive and will present no threat to the European community as a whole and to neighboring countries in particular. Moreover, he emphasized that after the joint military maneuvers will be over, the army units of the Russian Federation will leave Belarus’ territory.
The Russian Federation denied that it planned to invade Ukraine using the territory of Belarus, although immediately after Alexander Lukashenko’s meeting with representatives of the army on the country’s Telegram channels appeared videos of landings on Belarusian airfields such as Lida, Baranovichi or Luninets of Sukhoi Su35s fighter jets, some of the most modern aircraft used by the Russian army. Other videos published on Tik Tok and Twitter have captured the transport of Russian military equipment either by rail – especially BDM-4M or BTR-MDM airborne combat vehicles – or on the streets of Belarusian cities, especially KAMAZ trucks used by Russian Airborne Forces. The man who confirmed that the Russian Armed Forces will carry out the military maneuvers with the Belarusian army was the Russian Deputy Defense Minister Aleksandr Fomin, who also provided a planning for them. According to the Russian official, the first stage of the exercises would be completed on February 9th, with the relocation and formation of armed groups of the Union State, while the military drills would be held in the second stage from 10th to 20th of February. He also said at a press conference for foreign journalists that in order to verify the functioning of the Unified Air Defense System of the Union State, Russia will transfer to Belarus 12 Sukhoi Su-35 fighter jets, two units of the S-400 anti-aircraft missile system and a Pantsir missile system. At the same time, Aleksandr Formin added that all the Armed Forces of Belarus, units of the Eastern Military District of Russia, as well as of the country’s air and airborne forces, will participate in the Russian-Belarusian joint military maneuvers.
The West’s reply
Shortly after the Russian military forces entered Belarus, Lithuanian Defense Minister Arvydas Anušauskas, in a post on his Facebook account, described them as “a destabilizing factor for the European security and a direct threat to Lithuania”. For his part, Ned Price, spokesman for the US State Department, warned Belarus on January 25th that it would face a swift and decisive response from the United States as well as from its allies if it allows its territory to be used for an attack on Ukraine. Moreover, he added that if Russian troops were to permanently station on their territory, NATO could have to reassess its own force posture in the countries that border Belarus. His statement isn’t surprising given that a few days ago, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said that as many as 8,500 US troops have been put on heightened alert for a possible deployment to Eastern Europe as Russian troops massed on Ukraine’s border. Also, in a post on her Twitter account, Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tihanovskaya claimed that “the deployment of foreign troops on the territory of Belarus endangers the country’s independence and sovereignty, violates its neutrality stipulated in the Constitution and poses a threat to the security of European states.”
Lukashenko’s annual Address to Belarusian People and the National Assembly: Is Belarus ready to attack Ukraine?
On 28th January for almost three hours, Aleksandr Lukashenko delivered his annual speech in front of the joint chambers of the Belarusian Parliament and more than 2500 delegates and media representatives from all over the country. Traditionally this event should have taken place in April, but in recent years the Belarusian president seems to have ignored this rule because in 2020 he delivered it in August two days before the presidential elections and in 2021 he chose to cancel it citing the increase in the number of coronavirus cases among the Belarusian citizens. However, in his annual address Aleksandr Lukashenko did not miss the opportunity to reiterate his support for the strategic partnership with the Russian Federation as well as the adversity towards the West, which he accused of trying to paint Belarus as aggressor. The president of Belarus, began his speech by mentioning that he will involve the country in a war only in two cases: if it faces a direct military aggression against Belarus or if the Russian Federation is attacked by the West. He justified his participation in a possible military confrontation alongside Russia by citing the obligations arising from the signing of agreements on the creation of the Union State but added that he does not want to start any war because he considers it scary. At the same time, Lukashenko said that he will try to return Ukraine to the bosom of the Slavic peoples, to defend it in front of politicians who try to destroy it and subordinate it to the West.
Also in the same speech, Europe’s last dictator wanted to assure the audience that Russia will never annex Belarus because the country will fight for the preservation of its statehood on the European map. Moreover, Aleksandr Lukashenko made blunt statements against the states neighbouring Belarus. He warned Lithuania not to unleash a war with the other Baltic states, as this could lead to the loss of its independence and sovereignty, and accused Poland of trying to bring back to its control the Belarusian territories it administered in the interwar period as well as of promoting in the current migrant crisis, a fascist policy because it shot and buried hundreds of thousands of people in the forests on the border with Belarus. At the same time. Lukashenko stressed that sanctions imposed by the EU and the USA are an element of hybrid war and that they are working according to the algorithm: sanctions – internal rebellion – military invasion. The head of the Republic of Belarus also wanted to send a message to political opponents. In his mocking style, he advised them to “come home, repent and kneel”. At the end of his speech Aleksandr Lukashenko added that he is ready to leave his post as president of Belarus if the Belarusian People’s Assembly asks him to do so and that during February he will again address the Belarusian people in order to explain what the amendments to the country’s Constitution entail. However, it is hard to believe that the Belarusian president will allow Russia to attack Ukraine using the territory of Belarus. But it’s not impossible. If he will do that, he will lose all credibility internationally. Unless he lost it after the august 2020 presidential elections. Today Europe’s last dictator has only one ally – his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin but for him there is one thing much more important than approving the invasion of Ukraine through Belarus, namely his own political survival. The referendum on amending the country’s Constitution is closer than ever. It is scheduled to take place on February 27th, 2022.