U.S. intelligence agencies and NATO are both saying that the Belarusian military could soon join Russia in its war against Ukraine. This wouldn’t add any appreciable combat power to the Russian army, but expanding the war would be crossing a psychological barrier and sending a signal to NATO that Putin was willing to go to any length to achieve his goals.
A Belarusian opposition source said that Belarusian combat units are ready to go into Ukraine as soon as in the next few days, with thousands of forces prepared to deploy. In this source’s view, this would have less of an impact militarily than it will geopolitically, given the implications of another country joining the war.
A senior NATO intelligence official said separately that the alliance assesses that the Belarusian government “is preparing the environment to justify a Belarusian offensive against Ukraine.”
Russia used Belarusian territory to launch its initial attack on Ukraine, and Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko has given Putin political cover since the war started.
But it’s not Lukashenko’s call whether his country goes to war or not.
The sources emphasized that there have been no indications to date that Belarus is currently participating in the fighting in Ukraine, and a senior US defense official said the Pentagon had not seen “any indications that the Belarusians are preparing to move in — into Ukraine or that they have made any agreements to do that.”
The NATO military official said that a final decision for Belarus’ involvement in the war still has to be made in Moscow, as of yet there has been no indication that Belarusian forces are participating in the fighting in Ukraine.
Lukashenko is dealing with a low-intensity insurrection and it’s believed that some dissident Belarusian troops are already fighting against Russia in Ukraine. The Zelenskyy government announced that a key railway crossing between Belarus and Ukraine has been severed, signaling opposition to Russia’s invasion among Belarusian citizens and some members of its military.
The extent of the damage is unclear but functional railway networks would have allowed Russia to rapidly deploy military equipment and supplies into Ukraine and such acts of sabotage could further worsen the Russian military’s logistical woes. The U.S. and NATO have warned that the Belarusian military could soon join Russia’s invasion. At present, Russia has only used Belarus as a staging ground for its offensive into northern Ukraine, including its advance of the capital city of Kyiv. Belarus also announced changes to its constitution last month to allow the country to permanently host both Russian forces and nuclear weapons. Despite this, Belarus has not actively contributed any of its troops to the invasion so far.
It may be that if Putin orders Belarus into the war, he’ll be stuck with two unstable nations on Russia’s perimeter. Opposition to Lukashenko may coalesce and challenge his iron-fisted rule, giving Putin another headache to worry about.