It adds up. If Russian casualties are as steep as alleged and if the Russian offensive really has stalled, Putin will need more troops to restart his advance. And he doesn’t have those at home. His own country appears to have maxed out its combat-ready forces in Ukraine. That leaves him stuck turning to client states for manpower.
Conveniently, there’s a client state located right across Ukraine’s northern border. One which could potentially rush troops south to turn the tide around Kiev, where things have reportedly begun to go sideways for Russia.
Maybe this is just the shot in the arm Russian forces need to finally lay siege to the capital.
Or maybe this war is about to become an even bigger sh*tshow for Belarus’s government than it is for Russia’s.
The US and NATO believe that Belarus could “soon” join Russia in its war against Ukraine, US and NATO officials tell CNN, and that the country is already taking steps to do so.
It is increasingly “likely” that Belarus will enter the conflict, a NATO military official said on Monday. “(Russian President Vladimir) Putin needs support. Anything would help,” the official explained…
“It is not about what Lukashenko wants,” the official explained. “The question is: does Putin want another unstable country in the region?”
“Involvement would destabilize Belarus,” the official said.
How good is the Belarusian military? Not very, says Mark Hertling:
My only response to this: When I was @USArmyEURAF Commander, we rated forces. Belarus was NOT anywhere near the top, if you get my drift. And fighting in a war the people of Belarus reject, under the orders of a President they don't support, will be "interesting." https://t.co/9VKGqydpnR
— Mark Hertling (@MarkHertling) March 22, 2022
How enthusiastic are Belarusians to get involved in this conflict? Uh, not very:
The head of the Ukrainian Railways Alexander Kamyshin confirmed that there is no railway connection between #Ukraine and #Belarus "thanks to Belarusian railway workers". They've indeed launched what they called "a railway war" with many acts of sabotage to stop Russian equipment pic.twitter.com/Tji0gkkdNP
— Hanna Liubakova (@HannaLiubakova) March 21, 2022
Rumors have swirled since the start of the war last month that Belarus was on the verge of entering and that some of its soldiers were deeply unhappy about that prospect. One general reportedly resigned because of it. The military’s rank-and-file have spent the past month absorbing reports that their own country’s hospitals are filled with wounded Russian troops, a taste of what awaits them if Belarus enters the fray. If Russian soldiers are having trouble understanding why they’re fighting in Ukraine, Belarusian troops probably find their own government’s case for war utterly baffling. They’re going to end up dying as cannon fodder purely as a favor to Putin from Belarus’s crony ruler, Alexander Lukashenko.
Lukashenko must know how his subjects are likely to react and what that could mean for his grip on power:
A Western intel source told me Lukashenko keeps deferring deployment by about 3 days every time he’s asked by Moscow. He doesn’t want to do it either. He knows.
— Michael Weiss 🌻🇺🇸🇮🇪 (@michaeldweiss) March 22, 2022
Tens of thousands of Belarusians came out to protest in 2020 after he rigged an election to give himself another term as president. He cracked down hard but the demonstrations destabilized Belarus’s economy. Who was it who came to his rescue at the time? Why, Vladimir Putin, of course, knowing that Lukashenko would eventually owe him a favor for doing so. That favor is now being called in. Lukashenko may have survived 2020 thanks to Putin only to be brought to ruin by him in 2022.
After the protests, tens of thousands of Belarusians fled the country for exile in neighboring nations — Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Georgia, and of course Ukraine. Some of the last group are no doubt in the crosshairs of Putin’s bombardment right now. Belarusian troops who invade Ukraine may be ordered to fire on them — or may be fired on by them. Quote: “Gerard, a 35-year-old Belarusian who asked not to give his real name in order to protect his family back in Belarus, is now getting ready to defend Kyiv as a soldier in the Kastus Kalinouski Battalion formed by Belarusian volunteers in Ukraine.”
Lukashenko’s 2020 arrangement with his loan shark in Moscow has left him without good options. If he resists Putin’s demand for troops, he risks becoming the next target of Russian aggression. If he enters the war, he risks being deposed and having his country sanctioned into economic oblivion by the west. Imagine watching your military blown to bits in Ukraine and then discovering that the only country still willing to trade with you is Putin’s Russia, a country reduced to near-autarky by the west. A poll taken in Belarus a few weeks before the invasion shows how precarious Lukashenko’s position is:
Presumably he’s trying to talk Putin into having Belarusian troops serve in some sort of non-combat capacity, like logistical support. The problem with that is that logistics have been Ukraine’s top target since the start of the war; by neutralizing Russia’s fuel trucks, they’ve effectively neutralized many of Russia’s combat vehicles too. Having Belarus enter the war also gives NATO an excuse to escalate its weapons shipments to Ukraine, either providing more weapons or more sophisticated ones or both. If Biden is looking for an excuse to finally send those MiGs to Zelensky, he’s about to get one. Now that Lukashenko’s participation is about to unbalance the scales, the west should feel free to re-balance them.
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