Ukraine says it is "ready" if Minsk joins the war. Belarus, for its part, says the military exercises "pose no threat to neighbouring countries"

Belarusian response forces start military manoeuvres by surprise

photo_camera Russian Defence Ministry Press Service via AP - In this photo taken from a video and released by the Russian Defence Ministry Press Service on Friday, Feb. 4, 2022, several rocket launchers fire during joint Belarusian-Russian military exercises at the Brestsky firing range, Belarus.

The Belarusian Defence Ministry has announced the start of a "surprise inspection" of the country's Armed Forces response forces, Belarusian news agency BelTA reports. The aim of the military exercises is to "assess the readiness and ability of personnel to respond quickly to potential crises". Therefore, during the exercises, troops will practise how to "become alert, move to predetermined areas and perform combat and training tasks". 

The Defence Ministry statement notes that the units will "operate in unfamiliar areas in a rapidly changing environment". In addition, the number of forces involved in the exercises "will be gradually increased", which, according to the ministry, "will make it possible to test their ability to counter military threats both on the ground and in the air". Minsk warns of the movement of "a significant amount of military equipment, which may complicate traffic on public roads". 

Cazas Su-30 de las fuerzas a茅reas rusas y bielorrusas vuelan en una misi贸n conjunta durante los ejercicios militares Uni贸n Coraje-2022 Rusia-Bielorrusia Servicio de Prensa del Ministerio de Defensa ruso v铆a AP

"These activities are some of the most effective forms of troop training," says Viktor Khrenin's Ministry. Belarus also claims that these military exercises "pose no threat to the European community as a whole or to neighbouring countries in particular". Last April, the Belarusian army also conducted manoeuvres on the border with Ukraine aimed at 'reinforcing parts of the country's southern border', according to the state news agency. 

Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began, both NATO and Kiev have viewed Belarus, Moscow's main ally, with suspicion. Russian troops aiming to take Kiev entered Ukrainian territory through Belarus. Similarly, shortly after the war began, Alexander Lukashenko's government gave the green light for Russia to place nuclear weapons in the country.

Viktor Khrenin, ministro de Defensa de Bielor PHOTO/SERGEY SHELEGA/BELTA via AP
Ukraine does not rule out Belarus joining the war

With Russian troops in Ukraine at a stalemate in mid-March, experts and analysts highlighted the key role of Belarus, warning that Minsk could soon join the war with Russia. NATO military officials backed this possibility, asserting that it is increasingly "likely" to happen. Even NATO staff told CNN that Minsk could prepare a false flag attack to justify aggression against Ukraine. 

Possible Belarusian actions in the conflict include the possibility that they could cut off Western arms supplies reaching Ukrainian territory or help capture Kiev.

El presidente ruso Vladimir Putin (derecha) y su hom贸logo bielorruso Alexander Lukashenko (izquierda) observan los lanzamientos de entrenamiento de misiles bal铆sticos como parte del ejercicio de la Fuerza de Disuasi贸n Estrat茅gica Grom-2022, desde el centro de situaci贸n del Ministerio de Defensa ruso en Mosc煤 el 19 de febrero de 2022 AFP/ALEXEY NIKOLSKY

Shortly after the Russian invasion began, Ukrainian intelligence also revealed to CNN that Belarus might be 'willing to participate, perhaps directly'. Following the Belarusian Defence Ministry's announcement, Kiev is backing this idea again. "We do not rule out that the Russian Federation may at some point use the territory of Belarus, the Armed Forces of the Republic of Belarus, against Ukraine," Andriy Demchenko, a spokesman for Ukraine's State Border Service, told Reuters. Should that happen, according to Demchenko, the country "is ready"

During February, before the offensive on Ukraine began, Belarus and Russia conducted joint military exercises called Union Resolve 2022 near the Ukrainian border. At the time, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said the build-up of forces on the border was 'psychological pressure from our neighbours'. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken also warned that these manoeuvres signalled an imminent invasion.

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9 May: Formal declaration of war and annexation of Ukrainian territories?

Military exercises in Belarus increase tensions in the region at a time when the EU is finalising the sixth package of sanctions against Russia, fighting is flaring up at the Azovstal plant in Mariupol and the situation in the pro-Russian Moldovan region of Transnistria is destabilising the region. Moreover, Western political sources have told CNN that Russian President Vladimir Putin may use the day of 9 May - Victory Day - to officially declare war on Ukraine. For Moscow, the current actions in Ukraine are part of a 'special operation'.  

A formal declaration of war would entail the mobilisation of Russian troops and reservists, an option not ruled out in the UK either. British Defence Minister Ben Wallace told LBC Radio that Putin will change his strategy to talk openly about war. 

REUTERS/CHINGIS KONDAROV  -   Un convoy blindado de tropas prorrusas se mueve a lo largo de una carretera durante el conflicto entre Ucrania y Rusia en la ciudad portuaria del sur de Mari煤pol, Ucrania 21 de abril de 2022

In addition, Pope Francis recently revealed in an interview with the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera that Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orb谩n told him that "the Russians have a plan, that everything will end on 9 May" during their meeting in the Vatican on 21 April.

However, analysts such as Oleg Ignatov, Russia expert at the International Crisis Group, consider this step "a very risky decision". Ignatov explains to CNN that a declaration of war "would change the Kremlin's entire narrative". Moreover, in the event of a large-scale mobilisation, many people would show their rejection. 

Other possibilities for 9 May include Moscow finally annexing the separatist republics of Donetsk and Lugansk or declaring an independent republic in Kherson, a city in the southeast of the country that was captured by Russian troops in early March. These scenarios are backed by the US State Department, which suspects the Kremlin of planning to hold an autonomy referendum in mid-May on the creation of a People's Republic of Kherson, as well as the annexation of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions, according to Europa Press.

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