A Ukrainian intelligence official downplayed the threat of Belarus joining the Russia-Ukraine war amid speculation that the Kremlin ally could send troops into the country to fight by the end of the year.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has emerged as one of Russian President Vladimir Putin‘s closest and most strategic allies amid the invasion of Ukraine that was launched on February 24, 2022. As many world leaders condemn the war, Lukashenko has defended the Russian leader, even letting his troops enter Ukraine from Belarusian borders at the start of the war.
After almost 11 months of combat, Putin’s troops have struggled to achieve substantial goals in Ukraine, which responded with a stronger-than-expected defense effort, bolstered by Western military aid. Amid Putin’s floundering invasion, Belarus has conducted several military exercises in recent months, fueling speculation it could become more involved in the conflict.
However, Andriy Yusov, a representative of Ukraine’s Main Directorate of Intelligence of the Ministry of Defense, dismissed this speculation in remarks first reported by Ukrainska Pravda on Saturday.
Yusov instead described these exercises as part of a psychological and informational operation, according to Ukrainska Pravda.
“It is in the interests of Putin and the so-called Russian Federation to push the issue with Belarus as much as possible,” Yusov said, noting that Lukashenko “does not want to take suicidal actions” by sending his troops into the war.
He added that while Ukraine does not presently see any threats from Belarus, its military remains ready “in the event of a change in the situation.”
“We know everything about the dictator Lukashenko, about the regime in Belarus. But there are objective things: the number of the strike group, the readiness of forces and means and other points that allow us to assert that, as of today, there is no threat from Belarus of a full-scale ground operation, its participation on the side of Russia,” Yusov said.
Dr. Anna Ohanyan, a senior scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told Newsweek on Saturday that Yusov’s assessment “makes strategic sense” for Russia.
“But it also shows how desperate state of affairs on the ground for Russia. The risks of regime survival for Lukashenko, if he joins the war, remain significant, even when we consider he full control over the media and tight relations with the Kremlin,” Ohanyan said in a written statement.
She added that misinformation campaigns are a “core component” of a hybrid war strategy. “It is in this hybrid warfare strategies that Lukashenko can be useful to the Kremlin, without activating domestic backlash at home,” she wrote.
Yusov’s remarks come just days after the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), a U.S.-based think tank, assessed that Moscow could be “setting conditions” for Belarus to enter the war, noting that its involvement would be unlikely until later this year.
“The most dangerous course of action (MDCOA) of a new Russian attack against Ukraine from Belarus in early 2023 seems less likely given current Russian military activity in Belarus. A new MDCOA of an attack from Belarus in late 2023 seems more likely,” the ISW said.
Speculation began last year that Belarus could be preparing to escalate its involvement, though experts have cautioned doing so would likely not be worth the consequences for Lukashenko. Still, his government has called for male citizens to go to enlistment centers, and announced plans to increase its troops’ combat readiness.
Meanwhile, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said earlier this month that some of these exercises were intended to deter opponents from “escalation and provocations.”
Newsweek reached out to the Russian Ministry of Defense for comment.