KYIV — Ukraine is paying little heed to the heightened posturing of authoritarian Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko, who this week pledged to conduct joint deployments with Russian forces and raised fears that Minsk is seeking to stage an operation under false border banner.
Belarus’ main strategic importance in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine is that its territory – and especially its airfields – are a springboard for attacks on northern Ukraine, including Kyiv. Indeed, Putin used Belarus in exactly this way in the early stages of the war.
But above all, Lukashenko avoided sending his own forces into the conflict, feeling that it would be a political disaster.
Just two years ago, Lukashenko survived massive street protests against his rule using brute force, and the heavy losses the Belarusian military would likely suffer in the war against Ukraine could reignite popular anger against his diet. Its direct involvement in the war would also mean more Western sanctions against a nation that has already been badly hit by restrictions related to the rigged 2020 presidential election.
Attention shifted to Lukashenko’s motives this week when he said on Monday he had agreed with Putin to deploy a joint regional military group. He added that this order had been given two days before, apparently after the explosion of the Russia-Crimea bridge, which Moscow blamed on Ukraine. Lukashenko said that the Belarusian army would form the base of this group.
Lukashenko also made false claims regarding a possible Ukrainian attack on Belarus. He issued a warning to Ukrainian leaders in light of supposed information about “strikes against Belarus from the territory of Ukraine”. Independent Belarusian thinkers and journalists saw Minsk as setting the stage for a possible false flag operation.
“This information was immediately brought to my attention. My answer was simple: Tell the President of Ukraine and the other crazies… that the Crimean Bridge will be nothing for them, if only they touch a single meter of our territory with their dirty hands.
He made his statement as Russia hit Ukraine with missile barrages on Monday, and Lukashenko’s reference to the Crimean Bridge was most likely a clue to Moscow’s retaliation.
Despite this escalation in rhetoric, the Ukrainian military is keeping a cool head in the face of potential risks from Belarus.
“Defense Forces units are monitoring the situation, there are no signs of the formation of offensive groups on the territory of Belarus,” the general staff said in a statement on Tuesday.
Ukraine’s political leaders have also played down Lukashenko’s provocative remarks in recent days.
“Lukashenko continues to sell [Belarus’] sovereignty to Russia. The request to deploy a Russian contingent to Belarus under false pretenses is the formalization of the occupation,” said Mykhailo Podolyak, adviser to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s office. tweeted In Monday.
Ukraine assesses the risks and is ready for any threat coming from Belarusian territory, he added. “The situation is under control, there are currently no signs of a repeat invasion of Belarus.”
Ukrainian forces also added context about what aid they believe Belarus is actually offering Putin.
Belarus is “involved in the repair” of Russian military equipment damaged during the war on Ukrainian territory, the staff of the Ukrainian armed forces said on Wednesday.
Perhaps more importantly, the General Staff added that the first batch of 20 T-72 tanks had been removed from storage in Belarus and sent to the Russian region of Belgorod, apparently in order to reinforce the depleted reserves of army in eastern Ukraine.
Meanwhile, Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who ran against Lukashenko in the fraudulent 2020 presidential election and now lives in exile in Lithuania, urged Kyiv on Tuesday to build a “common alliance against Russian aggression”.
So far, relations between the Ukrainian authorities and Tikhanovskaya’s team have been limited. Unlike many Western leaders, Zelenskyy, as well as other senior Ukrainian officials, never officially met Tikhanovskaya, let alone acknowledged her as the rightful leader of Belarus.
Kyiv has always tried to distance itself from expressing direct sympathy for Tikhanovskaya, one of Lukashenko’s main political rivals, seeking not to provoke the authoritarian ruler, who could then refrain from holding back and join the ground war of Russia in Ukraine.