A NATO military official told CNN on Monday it is increasingly likely that Belarus will enter the war in Ukraine. “Putin needs support. Anything would help,” the official added. A senior NATO intelligence official said the Belarusian government “is preparing the environment to justify a Belarusian offensive against Ukraine.”
The Russian ground offensive into Ukraine is taking place along three axes: from the north through Belarus, from the south through Crimea, and from the east through the Russian-Ukrainian border and the territories held by the pro-Russian separatist republics. Despite hosting part of the Russian invasion force and providing Russian troops with a pathway into northern Ukraine, Belarus still has not formally entered the war as a belligerent on Moscow’s side. The Ukrainian parliament announced in early March that Belarusian troops had invaded the northwestern Chernihiv region of Ukraine, but those claims were never corroborated. Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko denied Kiev’s allegations and said at the time that he had no plans to invade Ukraine.
The scope and purpose of a possible Belarusian military intervention remain unclear. A large influx of Russian-commanded Belarusian troops from the north could potentially breathe new life into Russian efforts to take Kiev, which have sputtered in recent weeks as the Ukrainian defenders reportedly continue to make gains in the capital city’s suburbs. Alternatively, the Belarusian military could assist in a renewed Russian effort to seal Ukraine off from Western supply shipments.
"We are receiving information about a possible invasion of Ukraine by the forces of Belarus, and so I appeal to the Belarusian military: We know that most of you are also against war with Ukraine," said exiled Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya in a video address on Tuesday. “Don't let the Belarusian Armed Forces lose the trust and respect of the Belarusians for good,” she added.
According to assessments made by Ukrainian military intelligence, Belarus maintains a sizable military presence along its border with Ukraine. Belarus changed its constitution late last month to allow Russian troops and nuclear weapons to be permanently stationed in the country.
In what could be a grim foreboding of Lukashenko’s plans, Belarusian Foreign Ministry spokesman Anatoli Glaz announced on Wednesday that Minsk has decided to expel the majority of Ukrainian diplomats based in the country. Belarus ascribed the move to the “unfriendly” actions of the Ukrainian government, accusing Kiev of meddling in Belarus’ internal affairs.
Mark Episkopos is a national security reporter for the National Interest.