Belarus’ army has begun removing armored vehicles from long-term storage to contribute to the joint regional grouping of Russian and Belarusian fighting forces, according to the Belarusian Ministry of Defense.
The decision was made in order to facilitate “interoperability measures” for the battlegroups, which have been conducting joint drills since October in Belarus, according to TASS.
It’s just the latest sign that Belarus could be gearing up for military action—or that it might be preparing to serve as a launchpad for Russian assaults on Ukraine.
Last fall, Russia sent tens of thousands of troops and armored vehicles into Belarus to conduct live fire exercises. Since then, Belarus has initiated snap military drills and moved military gear and equipment toward its border with Ukraine. Earlier this month, the Commander-in-Chief of Russia’s Ground Forces, Army General Oleg Salyukov, also visited Belarus to inspect the joint Russian-Belarusian military force.
Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko allowed Moscow to use Belarus as a launchpad for its failed offensive against Kyiv last year, and has likely continued his attempt to beef up Belarusian combat readiness due to pressure from Russia, analysts say.
The news that Belarus is transitioning military gear out of long-term storage comes just days after Russia’s foreign ministry outlined conditions under which Belarus would join the war in Ukraine. If Belarus or Russia believe that Ukraine has “used force” against either country, Belarus will join the war, according to the ministry.
It’s not clear what “use of force” comprises in the eyes of Minsk or Moscow, but Lukashenko has been opining publicly about perceived Ukrainian threats to Belarus in recent days.
Lukashenko suggested Tuesday that Ukraine continues to make threatening moves by training armed forces to defend against a Belarusian assault on Ukraine from the north.
“On the one hand, they ask us not to send troops to Ukraine… On the other hand, they are preparing this explosive mixture and arming them,” Lukashenko said Tuesday, according to Belta, adding that Kyiv proposed Belarus enter into a “non-aggression pact” with Ukraine. “Therefore, we are forced to react harshly… They should consider themselves warned.”
It was not immediately clear if Ukraine had indeed suggested a “non-aggression pact” with Belarus. Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry did not immediately return request for comment.
Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry has sought to simmer tensions with Belarus, reassuring Minsk in a statement Tuesday that Ukraine does not intend to attack the country.
“We confirm the absence of any aggressive intentions towards Belarus on our part,” the Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Oleh Nikolenko, told Ukrainska Pravda.
The Kremlin is likely working to pressure Belarus to prepare to engage in the conflict more, Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry assesses.
“Russia is trying in every possible way to draw Belarus directly into a war. Ukraine warns Minsk against any possible further aggressive plans,” Nikolenko said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky also issued a statement in an attempt to signal to Lukashenko that he ought to resist pressure to join the war.
“We were not going to and are not going to attack Belarus. This is the main signal from the entire Ukrainian people to the Belarusian people,” Zelensky told reporters Tuesday. “It is very important for us that Belarus does not lose its independence and does not join this disgraceful war despite anyone’s influence.”