Official Minsk has finally rejected its propaganda of recent months about alleged non-interference in Russia’s war against Ukraine.
Now the Belarusian authorities not only admit their participation in the aggression against Ukraine but also threaten a new offensive from their territory. And for this, it has already invited Russian troops to Belarus.
How likely is a repetition of the February offensive from the territory of Belarus? Are the Belarusian authorities and Belarusian society ready for a full-scale war?
And if not, what are the most real new risks that Ukraine may soon face?
A game of non-involvement by the President of Belarus
Now it can be assumed with great confidence that the self-proclaimed President of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, not only knew about the invasion but also gave his consent to the participation of the Belarusian army as of the beginning of February 24. However, most likely, given its fighting capacity, this participation could only be auxiliary, for example, to control captured territories while the main forces continue the offensive.
However, the Russian plan to “capture Kyiv in three days” failed from the first day – and this saved Lukashenko from the need to send his troops.
So, as soon as the Russian troops left the north of Ukraine, Minsk tried to justify itself to the West, referring to the non-participation of its troops in the invasion.
“We gave the Russian Federation consent to military exercises on our territory, but not to an invasion,” – this argument Belarusian diplomats unsuccessfully tried to convey to Western capitals.
Everything has changed in the last few weeks.
Vladimir Putin’s decision to play for higher rates could not but affect Lukashenko. Now he could no longer pretend to be uninvolved.
An informal summit of CIS leaders took place in St. Petersburg on October 8, 2022, the day of Putin’s anniversary. It was there, as Lukashenko later said, that Putin managed to “convince” him to change his policy on the war with Ukraine.
The consequences were not long in coming. The Belarusian Foreign Ministry summoned the Ukrainian Ambassador Igor Kyzym in the evening of the same day, handing him a note stating that Ukraine was allegedly planning a strike on the territory of Belarus.
But the main statements were voiced by Lukashenko on October 10 at a meeting with the power bloc.
Alexander Lukashenko’s statements with many unknowns
Alexander Lukashenko made several loud statements on October 10, 2022.
First, he announced that he agreed with Putin to deploy a joint regional grouping of troops, which was caused by the “escalation on the western borders” of the Union State (the superstate formation of Russia and Belarus). Moreover, the formation of this group has already begun.
“Yesterday, through unofficial channels, we were warned about the task of striking Belarus from the territory of Ukraine. As stated, “we will make it so that it will be the Crimean bridge-2″. My answer was simple: tell the President of Ukraine and other crazy people that the Crimean bridge will seem like cake walk if they touch even a meter of our territory with their dirty hands,” the Belarusian dictator said.
Here it is worth paying attention to one revealing point: what is a “joint regional grouping of troops” is currently unclear. This term appeared in the Military Doctrine of the Union State adopted a year ago, but until now the parties have been negotiating to agree on this format. However, Lukashenko announced the use of this mechanism even before the completion of the relevant negotiations.
This does not allow us to answer the key question: will the Belarusian troops come under Russian control?
However, this seems unlikely. First, such a step can have fatal consequences for Lukashenko – and he cannot be unaware of it.
And secondly, as Lukashenko himself notes, the backbone of the joint regional grouping will be made up of Belarusian troops.
Lukashenko’s second statement is about the return of the Russian military to the country. Here the self-proclaimed President was also not very specific in disclosing their number.
According to him, Russia is not ready for a new conflict. “Last thing you need is the second conflict. You know that they have enough problems. Therefore, do not count on a large number of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation. But it will not be one thousand people,” the Belarusian dictator said.
“And be ready to accept these people in the near future and place them where needed, according to our plan without overdoing it and exacerbating the situation,” Lukashenko instructed his Minister of Defense.
Lukashenko’s next statements were rather addressed to Belarusians. He stated that he was allegedly not planning an attack on Ukraine and that the troops would be deployed only for defense in case of “Ukrainian aggression”. And also that ordinary citizens have nothing to worry about – there will be no mobilization.
The latest statements are rather an attempt to calm down his electorate, among which are bellicose moods, although higher than in the opposition environment, but still they do not dominate.
So the question remains open: does Lukashenko’s “coming out” really mean the full-fledged participation of Belarus in the war against Ukraine? And what will this participation be? In particular, how likely is a new attack on Ukraine from the Belarusian bridgehead?
Waiting for the offensive on Kyiv with the participation of the Belarusian army
The opposition previously announced a new offensive on Kyiv with the participation of the Belarusian army. In particular, one of the leading members of the “Tsikhanouskaya government” [named after Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the leader of the Belarusian democratic movement – ed. ], Pavel Latushko, referring to his sources, spoke about Minsk’s plans to mobilize men, increasing the size of the army by 100,000 people, which would allow a new offensive on Ukraine together with the 120,000 servicemen of the strong grouping of Russian troops.
Then, two points worked in favor of this version. First, the new practice of summoning Belarusians to the military commissariats was alleged to verify personal data.
And secondly, a month ago it became known that the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation massively rented the freight capacities of the Belarusian railways, something similar happened in February on the eve of the invasion.
However, as evidenced by Ukrainian intelligence and independent Belarusian bloggers documenting their country’s participation in the war, these cargoes are now used not for the import of military equipment to Belarus, but the export of artillery stocks from Belarusian warehouses – Russia is already beginning to feel its shortage.
This is a powerful argument against the possibility of a new full-scale offensive.
Unlike in February, the Russian Federation will no longer be able to rely on the surprise factor, while Ukraine has already prepared its border in the north.
And accordingly, a full-scale offensive can only be possible with the massive use of artillery.
In addition, despite the fact that the Belarusian army has been conducting continuous exercises since February 24, its potential is clearly insufficient for an offensive.
Russian troops invited by Lukashenko can change everything. It is possible that in reality there may not be several thousand of them, but much more. But what will be the readiness of these troops? The introduction of mobilized soldiers is unlikely to significantly increase the offensive potential of the “joint regional grouping of forces”.
The most professional forces of the Russian Federation are currently suffering losses in the war against Ukraine – it is unlikely that they will be transferred to Belarus. And even if this happens, the troops will need time for combat coordination, and these actions will be noticed by intelligence.
Another argument against a full-scale offensive: despite all belligerent statements, such a scenario is personally disadvantageous for Lukashenko. And accordingly, even despite Putin’s pressure, he will look for ways to avoid it. And although its capabilities are becoming more and more limited, this factor should not be ignored either.
Instead, the most realistic seems to be the use of Belarus as a bridgehead for the missile attack on Ukraine. The delivery of missiles to the Iskander and S-400 complexes into the country has already been recorded by the Belarusians.
It is worth reminding that Ukraine was also attacked by Iranian Shahed-136 kamikaze drones, in addition to missiles on October 10, 2022. According to the Armed Forces of Ukraine, they were most likely launched from the territory of Belarus.
Most likely, such attacks will soon become regular. The involvement of Russian troops should not only “distract” the Armed Forces of Ukraine in such a scenario but also minimize the risk of a Ukrainian counterattack at the sites of missile and drone launches.
Whatever strategy Russia chooses to use Belarus in the war against Ukraine, Lukashenko’s consent to this participation requires a reaction from both Kyiv and the West.
Kyiv is facing the question of whether to recall its ambassador from Minsk and sever relations with Lukashenko’s regime. How many more rockets or kamikaze drones should be fired from Belarus for this question to be “on time”?
At the same time, it is worth raising the question of strengthening sanctions against Belarus, which should increase the cost of the check for the maintenance of this regime for the Russian Federation.
Lukashenko’s recent statements mean that the time for compromises with the Belarusian regime has already passed. Ukraine should be ready for this.