Lukashenko won’t help Putin for fear his military would ‘switch sides’
Ukraine: Lukashenko’s priority is to ‘preserve power’ says Lavaleuski
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On Monday, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko announced he had ordered the formation of a new volunteer territorial defence. This was, he said, in order to ensure everyone knows how to “handle weapons” and be ready to respond to an act of aggression against Belarus.
Speaking to a meeting of his Security Council, he said: “The situation is not easy. I have said more than once: every man — and not only a man — should be able to at least handle weapons. At least in order to protect his family, if needed, his home, his own piece of land and – if necessary – his country.”
It is a hint: that Belarus is preparing to enter the Ukraine war on the side of Russia.
Lukashenko’s rhetoric is increasingly similar to that of Putin’s in the run-up to the invasion when the Russian president said aggression would be met with a measured response.
Around that time, reports suggested that several false flag attacks were in the making in Ukraine’s east, shortly before Russia’s full-scale invasion.
But while many fear Belarus’ entering the conflict, others are confident that the country never will. Not least because it could mark the end of Lukashenko’s rule — and he knows it.
Among those who believe this includes Valery Kavaleuski, one of Belarus’ exiled politicians who is a part of the country’s government-in-exile.
Speaking to Express.co.uk, he said that while Lukashenko sees Ukraine “as a threat”, the reason why Belarus has not got involved after nearly a year of the war is that the risks far outweigh the rewards.
He explained: “The fact that it has not happened is not because Lukashenko is so prudent or is so balanced and so willing to be a wise man [it is because] he has had to take into account that Belarusian troops would not be a significant contribution to this war on the country, it could lead to [Belarusians] laying down arms and switching sides.
“The losses among the Belarusian military could lead to the eruption of internal protests in Belarus, essentially striking it out as the only ally of Russia in this war.
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“That’s why the decision not to send Belarusian troops to Ukraine until now has been very pragmatic and sort of self-serving for Lukashenko because his ultimate priority is to preserve his own arm of power.”
Belarus has, however, allowed the Russian military to use its territory to train, recover from the warzone, ferry goods to and from Russia, and most controversially fire land-based missiles at Ukraine.
There are currently Russian troops deployed within Belarus, and in theory, it is possible for them to enter Ukraine from the north. Belarus offers Russia the shortest route to Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital.
Even Mr Kavaleuski, who isn’t totally convinced that Belarus will enter the war, voiced concerns over the Russian presence in his home country.
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He said: “The developments we see in Belarus, vis-a-vis Ukraine, is that the trajectory is becoming a bit more concerning.
“We see the amassment of Russian troops in Belarus, we see more movements of the Russian military, the training exercises on the territory of Belarus continue, and nowadays they are undertaken on the border with Ukraine.”
On Tuesday, February 21, Belarus claimed there was a significant grouping of Ukrainian troops massed near its border and warned that this posed a threat to its security.
The country’s Defence Ministry said in a post on Telegram: “At present, a significant grouping of the Ukrainian army is concentrated in the immediate vicinity of the Belarusian-Ukrainian section of the state border.”
It went on to note that the “probability of armed provocations, which can escalate into border incidents, has been high for a long time,” and that it would take “measures to adequately respond”.
Crucially, however, it said it would act in a restrained way. Whether this is due to Lukashenko’s discretion or because of Mr Kavaleuski’s assessment is to be seen.
Ukrainian Armed Forces have been carrying out military drills just miles away from the Belarusian border, preparing for the event of an attack from the north.
Pavel Slunkin, who formerly worked in Belarus’ Foreign Ministry, described the situation as being firmly on the fence.
“Is Belarus preparing for an invasion or not? I would say yes and no,” he said. “Why yes? Because it is much better prepared to participate in the war than it was in February 2022 when its army was inexperienced and small.
“Why no? That army has never participated in any armed conflict outside of Belarus or even in Belarus.
“And while they are showing they are preparing, it doesn’t mean they are planning to invade.”
Mr Slunkin went on to add that Belarus’ position may more closely align with that of a distraction.
He said Putin could be using Belarus as a means to take attention away from its operations in eastern Ukraine in order to stretch President Volodymyr Zelesnky’s forces.
Adding that Belarus may be grabbing headlines on purpose, he said: “The result of the actions make many countries interested — everyone wants to know what Russia is planning and if there is an increase in threat [in Belarus] and if it is working.”
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