Belarusian president Aleksandr Lukashenko put artillery units on combat alert. Could he join the war in Ukraine along with Russia?
A new player could actively join the war in Ukraine on the side of the invader. Belarus, Russia’s closest and only formal ally in Europe, is increasing military readiness of its troops. Minsk’s military preparation comes amid fears of a renewed offensive to attack Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital.
"Today, as part of joint unit cohesion measures for the Belarus-Russia regional group of forces, artillery units of the 11th separate mechanized brigade have been readied for accomplishing assigned missions,” the Belarusian Defense Ministry said in a note as reported by TASS.
The Belarusian military had been deployed on the border with Ukraine already in October 2022. This however is the first time an order of combat alert was released.
So far, Belarus had remained outside the conflict for fears of instability at home. Aleksandr Lukashenko, Belarusian president and de facto dictator, experienced a 10-months long protests against his regime in 2020-2021. Many hoped that these protests would become another Maidan Revolution, when Ukrainian dictator Yanukovich was ousted back in 2014.
That, however, did not happen and Lukashenko held on onto power. However a possible direct intervention in Ukraine, with the military far from home, could mean the end for Lukashenko’s regime.
Another invasion from the north
Lukashenko, however, is caught between a stone and a hard place. Despite fears of unrest at home, he also must answer to Vladimir Putin and his need for victory in Ukraine.
Belarus relies on Russia economically and politically too much to simply say “no”, and Lukashenko is aware of that.
Vladimir Putin himself is in a bad situation: not only victory seems still out of reach, there’s a serious chance he might lose the war. His plan, according to Ukrainian intelligence, is to attack the Ukrainian capital Kyiv crossing the Belarusian border.
That is exactly what happened in February 2022 at the beginning of the war. Ukraine, however, fiercely defended its capital and Russia was eventually forced to pull back.
For the moment, a similar attack is unthinkable: the Ukrainian fields outside Kyiv turn into mud and swamps in winter and spring. Such terrain would make mechanized movements impossible, therefore any attack would be stopped dead.
This, however, could also turn into an advantage for Putin. Ukraine is currently wasting precious resources in the defense of Bakhmut, a crucial city in the Donbass which, however, is slowly turning on Russia’s side.
Putin has all the time in the world to prepare such an offensive as well as to convince Lukashenko to join him. True, they would face a much better prepared and equipped Ukrainian army, but if rumors are Russia could muster an almighty army by spring.
Ukrainian intelligence reported fearfully that Russia could mobilize another 500.000 men to the front, looking for a possible two-million army. If used properly with accurate tactics, Russia could seriously threaten Kyiv.
Despite the objective and major Ukrainian successes, the war is not over yet.