The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense warned on Sunday that Belarus, Ukraine’s northern neighbor, was prepared to join Russia in its invasion of Ukraine, further escalating the ongoing war between the two countries.
The Ministry of Defense statement, posted to the ministry’s Facebook page, highlighted Russia’s poor performance and astronomical losses in the opening weeks of the conflict, suggesting that an invasion could be a “fatal mistake” for Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko. “The direct involvement of Belarusian troops in the Russian armed aggression against Ukraine [is] contrary to the will of the military and the vast majority of the Belarusian people,” it added.
The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, the country’s military leadership, also announced that it was considering the threat of Belarus targeting Ukraine’s northwestern Volyn province, according to Ukraine’s Pravda newspaper.
A key Russian ally in Eastern Europe, Belarus hosted the Russian military for “training exercises” in the run-up to the invasion. The exercises ultimately served as a cover for the positioning of Russian troops along the Ukrainian border in preparation for an invasion. On the first day of the conflict, Russian troops invaded northern Ukraine through Belarus, seizing the infamous Chernobyl nuclear power plant within hours. As the northern incursion has floundered amid strong Ukrainian resistance, Belarus has provided logistical support to the Russian campaign, including through the use of its rail network, which is connected to Russia’s. At the same time, Lukashenko has publicly endorsed Putin’s campaign, blaming the United States and the Ukrainian government for fomenting division and complimenting the Russian leader as “absolutely fit” and “in better shape than ever.”
However, in spite of Minsk’s support to Moscow throughout the invasion, Belarusian troops have not yet taken part in the conflict. Lukashenko has stated publicly that Minsk does not view the situation in Ukraine as a threat to its core interests and would not participate in the war unless directly attacked. While missiles from the conflict have landed or been shot down within Belarus, no Belarusian civilians have yet been harmed in the fighting. Moreover, responsibility for the missiles entering the country is unclear, with Moscow accusing Ukraine of firing them and Kyiv accusing Russian units of attempting to draw Belarus in through the use of a “false flag” operation against Belarus.
While the decision to invade Ukraine will ultimately be made by Lukashenko and his advisors, anecdotal evidence suggests that many Belarusians are opposed to the conflict. Minsk’s aid to Moscow has been undermined by a persistent campaign of sabotage against Belarus’s railways, and the military’s rank-and-file has reportedly been reluctant to engage in a conflict with Ukraine.
Trevor Filseth is a current and foreign affairs writer for the National Interest.