Russian ally Belarus pulls out armored vehicles in latest threat

Russian ally Belarus pulls out armored vehicles in latest threat to Ukraine

The Belarusian army has started removing armored vehicles from long-term storage to contribute to the joint regional grouping of the Russian and Belarusian armed forces, according to the Belarusian Defense Ministry.

The decision was made to facilitate “interoperability measures” for the battlegroups, which TASS says have been conducting joint exercises in Belarus since October.

It’s just the latest sign that Belarus may be preparing for military action — or that it is preparing to serve as a launch pad for Russian attacks on Ukraine.

Last fall, Russia sent tens of thousands of soldiers and armored vehicles to Belarus to conduct sharp drills. Since then, Belarus has initiated immediate military drills and moved military hardware and equipment towards its border with Ukraine. Earlier this month, Russian Ground Forces Commander-in-Chief Army General Oleg Salyukov also visited Belarus to inspect the joint Russian-Belarusian armed forces.

Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko allowed Moscow to use Belarus as a launch pad for its failed offensive against Kyiv last year and has likely continued his attempt to boost Belarus’ combat readiness in the face of pressure from Russia, analysts say.

The news that Belarus is transferring military equipment from long-term storage comes just days after Russia’s foreign ministry outlined the terms under which Belarus would join the war in Ukraine. If Belarus or Russia believe Ukraine has “used force” against either country, Belarus will join the war, the ministry said.

It’s not clear what “use of force” entails in Minsk or Moscow’s eyes, but Lukashenko has spoken publicly in recent days about perceived Ukrainian threats to Belarus.

Lukashenko suggested on Tuesday that Ukraine continues to take menacing steps by training armed forces to defend against a Belarusian attack on Ukraine from the north.

“On the one hand, they are asking us not to send troops to Ukraine… On the other hand, they are preparing and arming this explosive mixture,” Lukashenko said, according to Belta on Tuesday, adding that Kyiv had suggested Belarus enter into a “non-aggression pact” with Ukraine. “As a result, we’re being forced to respond harshly… You should feel forewarned.”

It was not immediately clear whether Ukraine had actually proposed a “non-aggression pact” with Belarus. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“Russia is trying by all means to drag Belarus directly into a war.”

Ukraine’s foreign ministry has sought to stoke tensions with Belarus, and Minsk in a statement on Tuesday assured Ukraine had no intention of attacking the country.

“We confirm the absence of any aggressive intentions on our part towards Belarus,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleh Nikolenko told Ukrainska Pravda.

The Kremlin is likely working to pressure Belarus to prepare more for the conflict, Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry estimates.

“Russia is trying by all means to drag Belarus directly into a war. Ukraine warns Minsk about possible further aggressive plans,” said Nikolenko.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy also issued a statement to signal Lukashenko that he should resist pressure to join the war.

“We didn’t want to and won’t attack Belarus. This is the main signal of the entire Ukrainian people to the Belarusian people,” Zelenskyi told reporters on Tuesday. “It is very important for us that Belarus does not lose its independence and, despite anyone’s influence, does not join this shameful war.”