After weeks out of the focus of the Ukrainian War, Belarus re-emerged on the scene this Wednesday (4) by starting surprise military exercises on its territory. The country is Russia’s main ally in the offensive against their neighbors.
The move comes on the 70th day of the Russian invasion, when Moscow expanded the forces involved in the attacks in the Donbass region, the Russian-speaking east of the country, and announced that it had used a Black Sea Fleet submarine for the second time in bombardments with two cruise missiles. Kalib
Aleksandr Lukachenko’s dictatorship is an old friend of Moscow, but it has always sought to balance itself between the former Soviet metropolis and the European Union. That broke in 2020, when massive protests against yet another rigged re-election of the leader prompted him to seek support from Vladimir Putin.
It worked, the repression ended the most acute dissent, but the bill came. The Kremlin managed to unify its military doctrine with that of its neighbour, and in the months before the start of the war it was allowed to concentrate men and equipment there. The result was the front that attacked Kiev at the very beginning of the conflict, descending directly from Belarus and with the support of anti-aircraft systems based in the country. None of Lukashenko’s soldiers, however, officially took part in the action.
The West was not very convinced and also included the country’s authorities on sanctions lists, but nothing like the progressive shutdown of the international system imposed on Russia. Since then, Belarus has pretended to be a luxury extra and has hosted peace talks, although the withdrawal of the troops that failed to take the Ukrainian capital and their relocation to the east took place through its territory.
According to the Belarusian Defense Ministry, the maneuvers are only intended to “test your readiness for combat” and pose no danger to neighbors. Kiev did not buy the speech at face value. “We are ready,” Ukrainian border service spokesman Andrii Demtchenko said of a possible reinforcement of Minsk.
He would be welcome on the one hand, as there is a chronic anemia of human resources for Putin, who has not decreed a general mobilization to avoid calling the war by its name — he sticks to “special military operation”. The Kremlin denied on Wednesday that it will use the most important date on the country’s political calendar, the day of victory over the Nazis, on May 9, to declare war and national mobilization.
“This is nonsense, zero chance,” said spokesman Dmitri Peskov. Speculation is rampant in Russian military circles, dissatisfied with what they see as a limited-effort and unsuccessful war. The date had been cited by British authorities as well. On the other hand, if Belarus enters the war, it will guarantee another region of instability on Russian borders. More than at any time since they were part of the Soviet Union, the neighbor is now under Russian political control. Tougher Western sanctions and bloodshed could spoil the arrangement, with the resurgence of demonstrations.
Meanwhile, Kiev has pointed to a strengthening of Moscow’s actions in Donbass, particularly around the country’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, which has been hit hard by bombings.
The Russian Defense Ministry did not confirm, preferring to focus on publicizing attacks on NATO arms supply lines, the Western military alliance, in Ukraine. According to the ministry, six train stations and power substations that fed the railway lines used by these convoys coming from the west – mainly on the Polish border – were destroyed.
With the Battle of Donbass unfolding, the influx has changed: in addition to small arms against tanks, there are now almost 90 American howitzers and perhaps 200 Polish tanks donated to Kiev. In a video, Defense Minister Serguei Choigu said that “any NATO transport with weapons is a target”.
“The Russian military command is trying to increase the intensity of its offensive operation. And it seeks to destroy our transport system,” said Ukrainian defense spokesman Oleksandr Motuzianik.
Ukrainian forces bombed downtown Donetsk, the capital of the eponymous Russian breakaway republic of the same name in Donbass. In Mariupol, in the south of the country, there were Russian attacks on the two remaining battalions of nationalists from the neo-Nazi group Azov hiding in a steel mill in the city, but afterwards the Kremlin said Putin ordered them only to remain surrounded.
The decision was followed by the announcement by the Russian Defense Ministry of a ceasefire to allow, from this Thursday (5) and for three days, a humanitarian corridor to be made possible for the evacuation of civilians. The Azovstal power plant is the end point of Ukraine’s toughest resistance in the south-east of the country, a link between Donbass and the Crimea annexed by Russia in 2014.