What is Belarus preparing for

2022 / 12 / 07

Eka Javakhishvili, Analyst


Is Belarus preparing to defend or attack?

After the deployment of a joint regional group of military forces of the Russia-Belarus Union State {1} on the territory of Belarus, suspicions arose that Minsk might be preparing to join Russia’s full-scale war against Ukraine. The possibility of this scenario is indicated by the fact that the training of Russian military forces and the gathering of military equipment are actively underway in Belarus. Further, Belarusian authorities are ramping up military rhetoric, talking about a possible attack from Ukraine and NATO member states on Belarus, and the necessary preventive measures. Regardless of what the Belarusian authorities are preparing for - to defend the country or to attack Ukraine, the maneuvers of the joint regional group of forces on its territory only serve to increase tensions near its northern border with Ukraine.

Alexander Lukashenko, named “the last dictator of Europe,” allowed Russian occupying forces to launch their offensive on Ukraine from Belarusian territory, despite his never having expressed a desire to involve the Belarusian army in the Russian-Ukrainian war. It is noteworthy that Lukashenko's resources for political maneuvering with the Kremlin are gradually running out, and the time is coming when he may have to make a decision that is unprofitable for him. On analyzing the costs and expected benefits of the corresponding decision, we can assume that involvement in the Russia-Ukraine war is not in the interests of Belarus at all, but for Lukashenko, the issue of maintaining power is directly related to the Kremlin's support. The potential involvement of Belarus in the current conflict is unlikely to significantly change the whole picture of the war, although Putin's actions are not always rational, seeing him constantly choosing the path of escalation. If Putin decides to involve Minsk in a war with Ukraine, Lukashenko will have to make a difficult choice: to fully enter the war in favor of Russia, which means acting against the interests of his country, or refuse to join Putin's adventure, which could cost him his power.

Let's discuss below what the joint military preparations of Russia and Belarus indicate, what kind of results are expected for Minsk and Moscow, and evaluate how likely the involvement of Belarus in the Russia-Ukraine war is.

What is the Belarusian dictator preparing for?

Following on from Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the Belarusian authorities have been talking about preparations for an expected attack on Belarus by Ukraine and its neighboring NATO states. On October 8, the Ambassador of Ukraine to Belarus, Igor Kizym, was summoned to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Belarus and was handed a diplomatic note “due to plans of Kyiv to attack Belarus”. The Ukrainian authorities categorically deny this accusation. Using this narrative, the Belarusian authorities are artificially creating the expectation of an attack on the country and it seems they are preparing a motive in case they have to engage in the war under Russian pressure.

No matter how strange it may sound, Lukashenko's virally spread meme on social media - "And now I will show you where they were preparing the attack on Belarus from" (Russian: А я сейчас вам покажу, откуда на Беларусь готовилось нападение), is actually related to Lukashenko's invented fears about "preparations for an attack on Belarus". In fact, Lukashenko is more afraid of the plans of the Belarusian opposition in exile than possible threats from Ukraine. He clearly understands that without the support of the Kremlin, his presidency would have ended after the rigged elections of 2020, the results of which are not recognized by the civilized world.

Minsk is concerned about the plans of the Belarusian opposition abroad, which has declared its readiness to use all means of resistance, including arms. In August, the leader of the Belarusian opposition, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, created a transitional cabinet in exile, where she named former senior police officer Alexander Azarov and retired lieutenant colonel Valery Sakhashchyk as ministers. They have admitted to preparing for various regime change scenarios, including Lukashenko’s removal by force. For this purpose, they built ties with Belarusian volunteers fighting in Ukraine and also offer military training courses throughout Eastern Europe for Belarusians. According to Lukashenko, these steps are supported by the West, and “radical fighters” are being trained in Poland, Lithuania and Ukraine, which pose a direct threat to the national security of Belarus.

According to the statement of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Belarus, a recruiting and financial center for the so-called Pahonia Regiment ("Пагоня"), a unit of Belarusian citizens fighting in Ukraine, has been set up in Warsaw, which is engaged in the selection of men aged 20 to 45 who have experience in military service. According to the interior Ministry, the organizers of this “extremist formation” are Vadim Prokopiev and Valery Sakhaschyk, against whom a criminal case has been initiated.

Hundreds of Belarusian volunteers fighting on the side of Ukraine, who have escaped from Lukashenko's regime, also pose a threat to the Belarusian dictatorship.  Some of the fighters are open about their goals to bring down the pro-Russian dictatorship at home after the war in Ukraine ends.

Lukashenko has repeatedly stated that he considers “provocations by NATO countries near its borders, training of subversive groupings by Belarusian political emigrants and Ukraine's plans to attack Belarus” as the main challenges to national security. By the decision of the presidents of Belarus and Russia, the joint regional group of forces of the Union state was deployed in Belarus as a preventive response to the mentioned threats.

On October 15, the joint regional group of forces started to perform “armed defense tasks” for which about 9000 Russian personnel, 170 tanks, up to 200 armored combat vehicles and up to 100 guns and mortars of over 100m caliber were sent from Russia to Belarus. In addition, the Intelligence Service of Great Britain released satellite images in which two Russian MiG-31K Foxhound jets are seen at the Machulish airfield in Belarus equipped with Kinjal (Russian: Кинжал) hypersonic missiles. A large container is also seen in the satellite image that is believed to contain missiles.

Belarusian officials emphasize that, according to the Union State military doctrine, the joint regional group of forces will be activated when a military threat to both countries emerges. They also point out that the main core of the unit is the Armed Forces of Belarus, and Russian forces arrived only to strengthen them. On the other hand, the Russian side claims that this grouping will not take part in Ukraine's “special military operation” and the deployment of troops only serves “to ease Lukashenko's concerns”.

Will Lukashenko join the war in Ukraine?

The Ukrainian authorities assume that the probability of the direct involvement of the Belarusian army in the war with Ukraine is very low, but not zero. At the end of October, the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine announced that the threat of invasion from the northern border is increasing, and thus Ukraine has been carefully strengthening that border over the last seven months. Alongside the border with Belarus, roads are mined, bridges are destroyed, and a reinforced concrete wall and other fortifications are being built. To their favor, climatic conditions and the nature of the terrain on the ground do not allow for the easy movement of large masses of troops, because there are many swamps and lakes in the area. Military personnel can only move along a few roads that are well-known to the Ukrainian side and are probably already protected.

Military experts point out that there is a shortage of military, medical and engineering infrastructure on the Belarusian side, which means that, at this stage, Minsk is not prepared to invade Ukraine.

As for the number of Russian fighters, the 9000 Russian reservists stationed in Belarus (this being the official number) would not be enough to serve a significant offensive task in northern Ukraine, even with the addition of low-skilled Belarusian troops. Military experts estimate that Lukashenko can deploy up to 10,000 contract troops, mostly from special operations forces, but this would be unlikely to dramatically change the picture of the war. If the Russian contingent in Belarus begins to grow rapidly, the probability of another invasion of Ukraine from Belarusian territory will increase accordingly.

Another argument that Belarus is not preparing for an attack is that the joint regional military forces have been deployed to four locations in eastern and central Belarus and not directly near the Ukrainian border. Presumably, at this stage, participation of the Belarusian side will be limited only to the training of Russian forces on its territory.

The prospect of direct involvement in a war with Ukraine poses political risks for Lukashenko, and he’ll not be wanting to lose the domestic support he has left. In general, there is a public consensus in Belarus that they do not need a war against Ukraine. According to telephone and online surveys, about 90% of respondents say that the Belarusian army should not take part in this war. Chatham House polls show that only 3% of citizens think their country should join Russia's war in Ukraine. Therefore, there is simply no social base in his society that Lukashenko could rely on for involving the country in the war.

Further, there is no high motivation among Belarusian military personnel to join the war. While Russian soldiers are fighting for the expansionist ideals of the Russian Empire, it makes no sense for the average Belarusian soldier to surrender to Putin's ambitions. Belarusian experts point out that if Lukashenko decides to send troops to Ukraine, soldiers will either flee or turn their weapons against the dictator, a scenario which Lukashenko very much fears.

Taking into account all the above factors, it can be assumed that the deployment of a joint regional group of forces in Belarus serves to protect the security of the Lukashenko regime more than plans to attack Ukraine. However, this is a mutually beneficial action from which Russia also expects to benefit.

What is Russia’s calculation?

First of all, the deployment of a joint regional military grouping in Belarus is an additional Russian military threat to Ukraine and can be considered as a part of the information war. In addition, it is an attempt to create an additional center of tension along the northern border of Ukraine. Military experts believe that in this way, Russia wants to divert the attention of the Ukrainian army to the northern border, to throw the Ukrainian military forces in this direction in order to slow down their advance on other fronts and simplify the task in the battles to the south. In southern Ukraine, the Russian occupation forces are suffering serious losses and are being forced, step-by-step, to give up annexed territories. This is a matter of reputation for the Russian president. If Russia loses the four Ukrainian annexed regions, which were only just united with the Russian Federation, it would represent a huge personal defeat for Vladimir Putin and the Russian “Invincible Army,” - a scenario the Kremlin does not want to allow to happen.

It should also be noted that Russia is increasingly limiting the sovereignty of Belarus; increasingly bringing the country's domestic and foreign policy, defense, economy and other strategic vectors under its control. Where the idea of ​​a Russian-Belarusian Union State only appeared on paper until now, it is becoming ever more realistic, giving the Kremlin more opportunities to put pressure on the Belarusian government while posing additional challenges to the European security architecture.


The majority of arguments logically lean in favor of the opinion that it is a less likely scenario that Belarus will join the Russian war against Ukraine, but it cannot be completely ignored. The dictator of Belarus has practically no interest in getting involved in the war against Ukraine, except to fulfill Putin's orders. However, it is difficult to predict the steps of either the Russian or the Belarusian leader based only on the argument that this decision would be fruitless. If Belarus does involve itself in the war under Russian pressure, it will be Lukashenko's attempt to extend his stay in power in exchange for Putin's support. Lukashenko's regime relies on the armed forces, and if he loses this support force in an unfair war with Ukraine, this will further accelerate the end of his dictatorship.

{1} The agreement on the creation of the "Union State" was signed in 1999, and aims to integrate the two countries. This process involves the creation of a common economic space, the use of a common currency, the development of an agreed foreign and military policy, and the establishment of a unified parliament and judicial system.   

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