The Russian invasion of Ukraine is about to enter its first month of stalemate. US and NATO warn Minsk could join the conflict "soon"

As Ukraine stalemate continues, NATO is wary of Belarus's potential role

photo_camera KREMLIN/SERGEY GUNEEV via REUTERS - Russian President Vladimir Putin and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko shake hands during a joint press conference in Moscow, Russia, 18 February 2022.

The invasion of Ukraine is not going as Russian President Vladimir Putin had hoped. A month into the war, Russian troops have not yet seized power in Kiev. They do control cities such as Kherson, Melitopol, Berdyansk and Konotop, although there are others that continue to resist the offensive despite constant shelling and fighting, such as Chernihiv, Kharkov and Mariupol, which is being "reduced to ashes", according to Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky. 

This demonstrates a stalemate in the development of the Russian invasion. Reports from the UK Ministry of Defence suggest that since Moscow has not yet achieved its objectives, the Russian military will begin a war of 'attrition'; something that is likely to involve the indiscriminate use of 'firepower', a scenario that has already occurred over the past weekend with Russia's use of hypersonic missiles. Moreover, as London warns, this new phase will lead to an increase in civilian casualties, while the humanitarian crisis will intensify.  

Una imagen de sat茅lite muestra edificios de apartamentos en llamas y destruidos, en Mariupol, Ucrania, el 22 de marzo de 2022 Imagen satelital 漏2022 Maxar Technologies/Handout via REUTERS

This is where analyst Frederick W. Kagan of the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) agrees, noting that stalemate during a conflict "often means big, bloody battles". Kagan recalls that some of the longest and most violent battles of World War I, such as the Somme, Verdun and Passchendaele, took place in stalemate conditions.

The war in Ukraine is reaching a stalemate. But the war is not over and is not likely to end soon. Nor is the outcome of the war clear, as Kagan explains. 

Mapa de Ucrania en el que se localizan las zonas en las que se han registrado grandes explosiones, ataques y combates y que est谩n bajo control ruso. Actualizado a 23 de marzo, 0900 GMT AFP/AFP

In order to overcome the stalemate, Moscow may seek help from some of its allies. Last week, the US claimed that Russia had asked China for military and economic assistance in the Ukrainian war, although both Beijing and Moscow denied such claims. Subsequently, US officials, including President Joe Biden, warned their Chinese counterparts of retaliation for any arms support to the Kremlin.

Soldados y bomberos ucranianos buscan a personas bajo los escombros dentro de un centro comercial tras un bombardeo, en Kiev, Ucrania, el lunes 21 de marzo de 2022 AP/FELIPE DANA

For the moment, as national security adviser Jake Sullivan has stated, there is no evidence that Beijing has provided arms to Moscow. However, Sullivan has assured that Washington will continue to monitor this issue.

Possible Belarusian actions in Ukraine: cutting off Western arms supplies or assisting in the takeover of Kiev

With China out of the picture, Putin's other possible weapon is Belarus, an important Kremlin ally. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has defended the Russian invasion since it began in February because, according to Lukashenko, Ukrainian troops were preparing to attack "not only the Donbas but also Belarus".

El presidente bielorruso, Alexander Lukashenko, rodeado de oficiales de alto rango, habla con los periodistas en el campo de entrenamiento de Osipovichi durante los ejercicios militares Uni贸n Coraje-2022 entre Rusia y Bielorrusia, cerca de Osipovichi, Bielorrusia, el jueves 17 de febrero de 2022 BELTA/MAXIM GUCHEK

Days after Moscow launched the offensive, Minsk got rid of its non-nuclear status through a referendum, allowing Russia to transfer nuclear weapons to its territory. In this vein, Belarus has also authorised the Russian military to launch attacks against Ukraine from the country and to use some of its airfields.

Recently, the journalist Jack Detsh of Foreign Policy posted on his Twitter account a satellite image showing Russian troops in southern Belarus, just 29 kilometres from the Ukrainian border. The photo "indicates that new tents and military equipment are being set up in the town of Dublin," Detsh writes. 

En esta foto tomada de un v铆deo y publicada por el Servicio de Prensa del Ministerio de Defensa ruso el viernes 4 de febrero de 2022, soldados participan en los ejercicios militares conjuntos de Bielorrusia y Rusia en el campo de tiro de Brestsky, Bielorrusia. Las tropas rusas y bielorrusas realizaron un entrenamiento de combate conjunto en los campos de tiro de Bielorrusia Servicio de prensa del Ministerio de Defensa ruso v铆a AP

But this support could go further, the US and NATO warn. NATO military officials told CNN that Minsk could "soon" join Russia in its war against Ukraine, although this would also "destabilise" Belarus. According to the sources, this is increasingly "likely" to happen.

"Putin needs support. Anything would be helpful," he said. In this regard, Moscow has also announced that it will facilitate the transfer of any Middle Eastern fighters wishing to join the offensive on Ukraine.

Another senior NATO intelligence official told the US media outlet that NATO assesses that the Minsk regime "is setting the stage to justify aggression against Ukraine"

Soldados ucranianos junto a un cr谩ter dejado por un bombardeo en un edificio de apartamentos mientras contin煤a el ataque de Rusia a Ucrania en Kyiv, Ucrania, 20 de marzo de 2022 REUTERS/THOMAS PETER

The sources did not elaborate on how Belarus might intervene. However, they explained that Russia could try to cut off NATO military aid flowing into Ukraine from its western border. Vikton Yagun, a general in Ukraine's security service (SBU), agrees, saying that Minsk's possible targets would be Volodymyrets in the Rivne region, as well as Kovel and Lutsk. "These are the main arteries for the supply of weapons from the West," Yagun stresses, as reported by local media Vechirniy Kyiv.

However, this is not the first such warning. In late February, a few days after the invasion began, a Ukrainian intelligence source suggested to CNN that Belarus was "ready to participate, perhaps directly". The Ukrainian source also indicated that Lukashenko's government would allow Russian troops to use the country's territory and cross its border, which has indeed happened.

Yagun also warned that "the possibility of an invasion of Belarus remains quite high". The Ukrainian general gave some data on Belarusian military capacity on a television channel. "In total, there are 10-15,000 troops that can be launched into Ukraine," he said.

Yagun noted that Lukashenko was no longer leading the country's army, but that all security and intelligence institutions were now under Moscow's control. "Therefore, the main function of the Belarusian army is now the rear reserve, providing logistics for the Russian army," he adds. 

Un miembro del servicio de las tropas prorrusas en uniforme sin insignias se ve encima de un tanque durante el conflicto entre Ucrania y Rusia en la ciudad portuaria asediada del sur de Mariupol, Ucrania 18 de marzo de 2022 REUTERS/ALEXANDER ERMOCHENKO

The opinion of Ihor Romanenko, a retired lieutenant general and former deputy chief of the Ukrainian General Staff, is along these lines. As he told Al-Jazera, the possibility of Belarusian aggression is high "judging by the way things are developing".

Romanenko, unlike NATO and General Yagun, believes that Belarusian troops could help Russian troops take Kiev, since, according to the former deputy chief of the Ukrainian General Staff, "the capital is the main target". 

El ministro de Defensa de Bielorrusia, Viktor Khrenin BELTA/SERGEY SHELEGA via AP

Lukashenko himself announced via the state-run Beta news agency that Ukrainian troops would join the invasion "if necessary". "Our troops are not there, but if necessary, if Belarus and Russia need them, they will be there," he declared.

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