For months Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, a key ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, has been pining to get involved in the Ukraine war, and it now appears as though he’ll get his wish. But the escalation is not likely to end well, either for his country or for Russia.
According to the Washington Examiner, Russian troops are pouring into Belarus “by the trainload,” which likely means they will join forces with Belarussan forces in a new push to retake lost ground in neighboring Ukraine:
Tens of thousands of Russian troops used Belarus as the staging ground for their initial northern offensive into Ukraine in February but mostly withdrew by late March. Since then, a few hundred Russian troops have stayed behind, mostly air and missile troops that use the close Russian ally as a launching pad for missile strikes into Ukraine, but that now appears to be changing.
“Russian soldiers are entering Belarus by the trainload. They’re traveling in cattle cars — just a huge quantity. Just waves of trains arriving,” a Belarusian source told Kyiv Post correspondent Jason Jay Smart.
Earlier this month, photos of Russian heavy artillery and armored vehicles moving into the territory of Moscow’s ally were posted to social media. The equipment was also moved into Belarus by train.
“This won’t be just a thousand troops,” Lukashenko told his military high command during a meeting when he announced the large-scale arrival of Russian firces. “Be ready to receive these people in the near future and place them where necessary, according to our plan,” he added, according to the New York Times.
Lukashenko also claimed that NATO and the European Union were making plans to move against his country, thereby necessitating the deployment of Russian troops. But NATO has not made any threats against Belarus, except to say that the alliance will defend all territories if attacked.
“Given the worsening of the situation on the western borders of the Union State, we agreed to deploy a regional group of forces of the Russian Federation and the Republic of Belarus. This complies with our documents. It says that if the threat level reaches the level as it is now, we begin to use the Union State group of forces,” Lukashenko said to military and security officials, according to Belarusian state outlet Balta.
“Strikes on the territory of Belarus are not just being discussed in Ukraine today, but are also being planned,” he claimed, according to Reuters. “Their owners are pushing them to start a war against Belarus to drag us there. We have been preparing for this for decades. If necessary, we will respond.”
Some believe that Putin’s latest move into Belarus may be part of a desperate effort to save face and his presidency.
“As Russian defeats in Ukraine mounted over the last month, so has speculation about President Vladimir Putin’s survival in office, and talk in Washington and among Russian oppositionists of the need for the Biden administration to adopt ‘regime change’ as an open U.S. strategy,” noted Anatol Lieven for Responsible Statecraft. “In its approach to this question, the Biden administration should concentrate above all on the question of the relationship between the composition of the Russian leadership and the search for an end to the war in Ukraine.”
The analyst goes on to say that seeing Putin go would be a good thing, though it is also possible that his successor will be more of a hardliner willing to escalate the war in Ukraine and prosecute it even more ruthlessly, which likely means widescale attacks on civilians, which Putin is increasingly conducting as his army takes losses.
It’s not clear what the next phase of the war will be, but it doesn’t look like a peace deal is on the horizon, either.
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