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Last call for Belarus

The Russian army is gathering up its troops in Belarus

Georgy Aleksandrov, exclusively for Novaya Gazeta. Europe

Photo: Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images

Belarusian authorities are once again claiming that their country is under the threat of an attack. Often, declarations of this kind end with an attack indeed taking place, but from the territory of Belarus instead.

“The assessment has shown that the West is working on attack plans that directly consider Belarus and Russia to be the enemy,” Belarusian Defence Minister Viktor Khrenin claimed. The politician also lamented the unprecedented increasing presence of the US and NATO military formations in Eastern Europe.

Novaya-Europe takes a closer look at who would be able to attack whom in the area.

Suicide plan

At the beginning of October, the same Viktor Khrenin talked about Russia and Belarus deploying a joint group of troops prepared for “the task of armed defence of the Union State [an alliance between Russia and Belarus — translator’s note]”.

According to the minister, back then, the troops had already been performing combat duty tasks in an enhanced mode. After the Russian army had withdrawn from Kherson, the freed-up Russian forces were deployed to the Belarusian military bases.

Since the summer, there have been rumours among the troops about the command planning to amass enough forces to be able to capture the cities of Lutsk and Lviv in a decisive attack, then move along the Ukrainian border, cutting off the Western arms supply routes.

The second big attack would be on Kyiv. In Russian commanders’ fantasies, the success of the operation would make Volodymyr Zelensky surrender and end the war.

A Russian soldier currently serving in the Belarusian city of Hrodna confirms the information about Russia amassing troops in Belarus:

“In some military units, all of the hardware and equipment have been given to Russians. Belarusians supply them with provisions and gear. Field camps are being established.”

“By mid-December, mobilised servicemen will have been deployed here, to finish their training. In total, over 300,000 soldiers could be amassed here. There are rumours that the offensive is planned for December, when it will get colder and the ground will freeze. At the same time, there are plans for advancing on [the cities of] Slovyansk and Kramatorsk through Bakhmut.”

According to our source, Russian servicemen are constantly carrying out reconnaissance and they are aware of the fact that Ukrainians will give them “a warm welcome”.

Not only did Ukraine’s army mine its own territory for many kilometres, but also razed the majority of roads using construction and engineering equipment.

“An offensive on long-term firing points through the mined swamps and forests under artillery fire is a suicide,” the Russian serviceman shares his opinion.

“Thousands will die instantly. Strong fortifications have been built along the border; three-metre-wide anti-tank moats have been dug. The Ukrainian artillery is firing in every direction. We will not reach neither [the city of] Kovel nor Kyiv. This plan of attack is clearly being sold to Putin as if it were another Blitzkrieg.”

False target

According to experts, Belarus is not going to attack anytime soon. “Currently, there are not enough Russian servicemen [for an attack] in Belarus, and there are no signs of offensive forces being formed,” Israeli military expert David Gendelman tells Novaya-Europe. “The Belarusian army is not combat-ready and could, at most, be an additional echelon for the Russian attack group.”

Meanwhile, Alyaksandar Lukashenka, it seems, has to make all kinds of concessions to Vladimir Putin. From 2020, when the protests were heavily suppressed in Belarus, Lukashenka kept isolating Belarus from the civilised world; he has become a hostage of Putin’s cooperation.

Stanislav Belkovsky

political scientist

“Lukashenka is once again trying to break free from under [Putin’s] control and is giving hints to the West. He’s giving signs that everything could change during a less-fortunate moment on the front lines for Russia,” Stanislav Belkovsky explains to Novaya-Europe.

“Furthermore, his figure is not only seen as someone who’s not acceptable for carrying out negotiations but as a puppet who is completely dependent on Russia and has already involved himself in the war.

“Lukashenka himself would very much like to avoid the Belarusian army’s entry into the war. But he will continue letting Russian troops use Belarusian territory as a foothold.”

“However, according to my information, Belarus currently has no combat-ready army grouping that would be able to advance on Kyiv or go on an offensive and cut off West Ukraine. I estimate the possibility of such an offensive taking place as less than 50%. However, the Kremlin needs to constantly keep up the appearances of such a threat being real,” the expert points out.

“It’s a necessity so that a big part of Ukraine’s Armed Forces, about 80,000 people, continues being deployed on the Belarusian border and does not fight in the east and south of the country. Also, Belarus is used as a platform for missile and bomb strikes and infiltration of sabotage groups.”

According to Belkovsky, all combat-ready divisions of the Belarusian army are currently made up of no more than 30,000 trained soldiers and officers. Qualitatively, this number would not change anything from the military point of view. Of course, if the situation on the frontlines gets even worse, Putin will try to make Lukashenka put these soldiers to use. Lukashenka will resist until the last possible moment, knowing that such a decision would not be popular among Belarusians.

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“The situation reminds me of 1944 when Nazi Germany’s allies started to abandon it,” Belkovsky adds. “Putin, just like Hitler back then, will do all he can to bring them back.”

“Before September, I thought the idea of Russia annexing Belarus was very far-fetched. But after Russian troops had been withdrawn from Kherson, I had a thought that Putin might like to thus compensate for the lost Ukrainian territories. But he will not have enough time to do so. There are, by now, not enough resources to open a second front. Most likely, we will just be shown another deepening of the integration and that Belarus has been embraced by Russia with a stronger hold than usual.”

There will not be enough time and strength for a total takeover. The longer Russia stays getting bogged down on the Ukrainian front lines the less likely it is that there will be attempts to absorb new territories.

Belkovsky is certain that Polish and NATO troops will not officially enter Belarus. The Alliance, headed by the US, maintains the idea that there is no formal war with Russia.

Deployment of troops would not solve the problem, instead creating additional difficulties in the form of a new fighting location. Such gossip, Belkovsky speculates, is being spread by the Kremlin, with Lukashenka’s support, to continue the ruse of the danger coming from NATO.

“It’s always possible to say that we were attacked instead of us doing the attacking, that we had to defend ourselves by attacking,” Belkovsky concludes.

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