Belarus threatens to take part in the war in Ukraine as the conflict escalates dangerously. After the explosion on the Kersh bridge - the link between Russia and occupied Crimea - and Russian shelling of civilian infrastructure in Zaporiyia and Kiev, Minsk is emerging as a new player in the conflict alongside Moscow, its main ally.
Dictator Alexander Lukashenko has accused Ukraine of "planning" attacks on Belarusian territory and agreed with Russia to deploy a joint regional military force during his meeting with President Vladimir Putin this weekend in St. Petersburg. The two leaders also discussed measures "in the event of the deployment of nuclear weapons in Poland".
Lukashenko noted that the training of troops began a couple of days ago, coinciding with the attack on the Crimean bridge. "If you want peace, you must prepare for war," said Lukashenko, who also warned that "it will not be just a thousand soldiers".
Lukashenko has targeted other neighbouring countries such as Lithuania and Poland, which he accused, along with Ukraine, of training "extremist" Belarusians to carry out "terrorist" attacks and acts of sabotage. According to the dictator, this "has become a direct threat" against the country. He blamed the US and the European Union for harbouring "fugitives" from Belarus, increasing support "for destructive elements" and aggravating the situation.
The EU has already responded to Lukashenko's statements, calling them "false, totally unfounded, ridiculous and unacceptable accusations". "We urge the regime in Minsk to refrain from any involvement in this brutal and illegitimate war," foreign affairs spokesman Peter Stano stressed.
Brussels has also demanded that Minsk "immediately" stop allowing its territory to serve as a launching pad for Russian air strikes against Ukraine. Stano told reporters that should Belarus become involved in the war, the EU would respond with "new and stronger restrictive measures".
Video from near the attack site in Kyiv pic.twitter.com/5s5gatuWPX— Anton Gerashchenko (@Gerashchenko_en) October 10, 2022
Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, leader of the Belarusian opposition in exile, has also spoken out, denying Lukashenko's accusations against Kiev. "Ukraine does not represent a threat to Belarus", she said. Tikhanovskaya called on the Belarusian military "not to follow criminal orders" and "refuse to participate in Putin's war against our neighbours".
Sending Belarusian troops to Ukraine could be a source of discontent among Belarusian citizens, even among Lukashenko loyalists. This is what Andrei Sannikov, a former Belarusian deputy Foreign Minister, tells The New York Times from exile.
Sannikov notes that Lukashenko is caught between Russian pressure to help his troops in Ukraine and public opinion, as he is aware that deploying Belarusian military "would be unpopular, even among his supporters". Nevertheless, the former deputy minister predicts that Minsk will participate in the war because "it has no other choice". "He (Lukashenko) is not making the decisions. Putin makes them and tells him what to do," he adds.
Artyom Shraibman, a Belarusian political analyst exiled in Warsaw - quoted in the US newspaper - agrees, arguing that sending Belarusian troops would be "very dangerous" for Lukashenko "on many levels". "It would be catastrophic politically," he said.
As Reuters points out, the Belarusian army has about 60,000 troops. Earlier this year, Minsk deployed six tactical groups with several thousand soldiers in border areas. Subsequently, with the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Belarus allowed Russian troops to launch attacks from its territory and use its airfields. In addition, shortly after the Russian offensive, Minsk divested itself of its non-nuclear status through a referendum, allowing Russia to harbour nuclear weapons on its territory.
WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT - Massive explosions shook the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv and other cities after Russian President Vladimir Putin accused Ukraine of a terrorist attack on a bridge linking Russia and Crimea https://t.co/hmowdfs1am pic.twitter.com/hxfkA3vKve— Reuters (@Reuters) October 10, 2022
The West has always viewed Belarus's role in the conflict with suspicion due to its close relationship with Moscow. Now, with Lukashenko's recent statements, analysts warn that Minsk may be preparing for a possible deployment of Russian nuclear weapons.