Parties: Lukashenko and Belarussian government, Putin and Russian government, Belarussian partisans, Ukrainian government, Chinese government, Western governments.
Belarus has mingled in the war between Russia and Ukraine by allowing Russia to use Belarus as a staging area. Belarus has used its own troops on multiple occasions throughout the last year to mimic the staging phase of an invasion of Ukraine.
News spread recently that a document was found which described a Russian plan to annex Belarus by the year 2030.
In the early morning of the 27th of February 2023, a Beriev A-50 (IL-76 AWACS) was severely damaged while parked at the Machulishchy Air Base in Minsk. Reportedly, damages included the aircraft’s critical radar as well as its avionics. The aircraft departed Machulishchy days later and made its way to Russia probably to receive repairs. In response to the attack, mass arrests have occurred targeting anyone remotely related to the attack.
The attack was executed using a commercial drone, modified to drop explosives, being a popular weapon of choice in the war in Ukraine. The executors of the attacks are thought to be Belarussian partisans fighting against Lukashenko’s regime.
Lukashenko has made threatening declarations that if Belarus were to be attacked by a neighboring country, its response would be “the cruelest''.
Ukraine has fully entrenched, fortified, and placed landmines throughout the whole area along the Belarussian border, expecting either a Belarussian or a Russian assault originating from their northern neighbor.
Lukashenko visited China this week together with Putin to discuss the possibility of ‘lethal aid’ to Russia from China, as well as solidifying the relationship between the countries.
Belarus endorsed China’s position on a “Political solution” to the war in Ukraine. China’s position on this matter does not include Russia withdrawing its troops from Ukrainian territory.
Belarus jailed a Polish journalist for eight years in prison on the 9th of February. This further worsened the relationship between the two countries, prompting Poland to close its most used border crossing with Belarus.
Analysis and implications:
Belarus’ actions demand that Ukraine, but also Western governments, stay on their toes in regard to it suddenly joining the Ukraine war. This would drain combat capacity from Ukraine, preventing it from being used against the invading Russian force. Additionally, it is not unlikely that Russia may retry an attack on Ukraine from Belarussian territory. Besides this, the staging by Belarus is already a nuisance for Ukraine as it forces Ukraine to dedicate more troops to their Northern border as a precaution, not allowing those troops to be used on the eastern front. At the same time, these actions can be used to test Ukrainian response to a possible threat from the Belarussian army itself.
Russia’s plan to annex Belarus has a strong foundation. Seeing that throughout the full-scale war in Ukraine, relations between the Russian and Belarussian governments have become closer than ever before, this plan has a real chance to be legitimate in both planning as well as initial execution. However, it must be noted that most Belarussian people will probably be very resistant to a Russian annexation attempt. Despite probable success, it is very likely that this will further increase the presence of Russian troops in Belarus.
The attack on the Russian AWACS may have great implications for Russian airpower, considering that Russia only has a handful of airworthy A-50s. Additionally, damaging one of the few functioning A-50s within a friendly state is a major blow to Russia’s reputation, as this sends a message that Russia even in befriended states cannot keep their most valuable assets safe.
Lukashenko’s declarations could threaten Ukraine with the perspective of a false flag attack on Belarus, where either Russia or Belarus would perform an attack on Belarussian soil under the Ukrainian flag, thus dragging Belarus into the war. This is indicative of the puppet relation between Lukashenko and the country actually in charge: Russia.
The Belarussian endorsement of China’s position will intensify the divide between the Russia, China, Belarus partnership and the Ukraine-sided Western nations. The effect of this can for instance influence the already tedious situation around Taiwan, and other geopolitical situations where China and the West collide. This comes directly after relations between the US and China have deteriorated following the shooting down of a potential spy balloon by the US which originated from China. The US has also warned China of the consequences of providing lethal aid to Russia in support of its war in Ukraine.
It is plausible that the annexation of Belarus might occur sooner than expected, as per indication of the Russian timeline. In order for Putin to compensate for his failures in Ukraine, he may therefore attempt a successful annexation of one of the other neighboring former USSR nations. This would drastically increase the tensions within Belarus itself, as a majority of its population does not support Lukashenko as president and see his position of power as fraudulent. Consequently, this is very likely to incite new riots like those seen in 2020, which may even possibly escalate to a full-scale rebellion by the Belarussians. Additionally, annexation of Belarus would extend the border area between Ukraine and Russia by approximately 450 km, which can then be freely used by Russia to open a new front if it has the capacity to do so. This possible annexation would also increase the direct borders between NATO and Russia, increasing tensions between the two even further.