Claiming to be reacting in response to NATO, Belarus is stepping up its military activity, with statements from its defense officials and military chiefs confirming that the Russian-aligned country is poised to increase its combat readiness.
Belarusian Defense Minister Viktor Khrenin announced on May 10 that the country was beginning a “second stage” of “snapshot readiness checks” of the armed forces. He said the action was taken in response to NATO’s Defender Europe 2022 exercises.
Later in the day, in a video address published by the official Telegram channel of the Ministry of Defense, Major General Viktor Gulevich presented some of the concrete measures already underway.
“As part of the second stage of verification of immediate reaction forces, battalion tactical groups were advanced to the western and northwest operational directions,” Gulevich said. “To reinforce them, air defense, missile forces and artillery units are advanced to ensure their combat operation.”
Like Defense Minister Khrenin, Gulevich presented the move as a response to Western military pressure.
“The United States and its allies continue to increase their military presence near the state borders of the Republic of Belarus,” Gulevich said. “Over the past six months, the buildup of forces has doubled, both in quantity and quality.”
However, Gulevich’s comments regarding Ukraine have raised concerns that Minsk, after refraining from direct action in Russia’s war so far, may reconsider its official non-combatant status.
According to Gulevich, “In the southern operational direction, Ukrainian military groupings numbering up to 20,000 people also demand a reaction from us.”
Although Gulevich presented no evidence to support the existence of such “Ukrainian military groupings”, his accusation echoes similar claims made by Russian and Belarusian officials on the eve and aftermath of the invasion. Russian from Ukraine on February 24.
On January 20, in an interview published by Russian news media RIA-Novosti Crimea, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said that up to 125,000 Ukrainian troops were preparing to “to return the territories of Donbass by force”.
On February 15, during a joint press conference with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Vladimir Putin affirmed, in reference to Ukrainian internal politics, that “what is happening in Donbass is genocide”.
On March 11, more than two weeks after Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said that “if we hadn’t carried out a preemptive strike…[Ukraine] allegedly attacked our Belarusian and Russian troops. »
Given past events, Gulevich’s comments raised concerns.
“I don’t expect Belarusian troops to cross the border into Ukraine,” said Belarusian political analyst Dmitry Bolkunetz. Newsweek. “There is too much opposition to this inside Belarus itself.”
“But statements like this can operate at a tactical level to attract some informational attention,” he said, “and to compel Ukraine to redirect some of its forces north.”
“Lukashenko talks like the village idiot,” Bolkunetz said, “but after everything that’s happened, it’s still possible that he really does express Putin’s private thoughts.