Oleksiy Matsuka: Putin’s little helper – Belarus opens second front against Ukraine?

The first “wake-up call”, a warning that something was underway and Belarus could enter the war, was the moment when Minsk handed a note of protest to the Ukrainian ambassador. Allegedly, Ukraine planned to strike at the territory of Belarus. Lukashenko held a meeting with the security forces and announced about a threat… from Ukraine.

Lukashenko also announced that he had agreed with Putin on the deployment of the so-called joint regional group of troops. And its number is still unclear. Belarus talked about 9,000 Russian military, but Ukrainian intelligence now admits that up to 20,000 soldiers – mobilized from Russia – have already been deployed. In addition – according to reports from Belarus – Minsk conducts covert mobilization under the guise of a “combat capability test”.

Military experts are now sure that Belarus needed the version of the alleged “threat from Ukraine” to justify both the transfer of Russian troops and the covert mobilization.

Then – following a pause, to prevent from being so obvious – they began the second stage of this plan. Head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Belarus, Vladimir Makei, declared that Minsk introduced the counter-terrorist operation regime. Then we saw a game of “good and evil cop.” Both Makei and Lukashenko are currently in Astana at the Commonwealth of Independent States summit. Lukashenko refuted the statement about launching the counter-terrorist operation… He talked about the regime of “increased terrorist threat” – which is completely different thing. Makei immediately declared that his words were misunderstood. And later, Lukashenko himself – as if nothing had happened – declared the opposite.

Here Lukashenko is confusing everyone – maintaining allied relations with Putin, and balancing in his rear between supporters and opponents of entering the war against Ukraine. So that he could write off everything on his defense minister.

Seeing Russia’s poor example, the Belarus generals frankly do not want to enter the war. Will they be able to dissuade Lukashenko from taking an extreme step? Is attack from Belarus bluff or reality?

But maintaining the illusion of a possible offensive, and taking active steps on it – are two different things. And there are suggestions that at some point Lukashenko may go on the offensive! But not a long one. For example, his army could walk a couple of kilometers and retreat. Losses in this case will be minimal, but the threat will become real. A kind of a “fallback” – in case there is a real threat of Russia’s defeat on other fronts.

General Staff of Ukraine is also seriously considering the threat of a second offensive from Belarus. Assuming that there are risks of an attack on the Western regions of Ukraine, bordering Belarus. The purpose of such a possible offensive might be cutting off the supply of weapons from Western partners. This scenario was voiced by American Institute for the Study of War. And they came to the conclusion: in order to block the supplies, the Belarusians would have to go deeper into Ukrainian territory for more than 30 kilometers!!! But there are many routes for the supply of Western weapons, the logistics are classified. So, there will be almost no sense in such an operation. But once Belarus is drawn into active hostilities, it will suffer losses. And this will hardly hit Lukashenko’s regime. After all, protest moods in the country have not disappeared after the rallies of 2020 two thousand and twenty.

But how many troops Belarus needs for a real offensive?

Military experts calculated that the grouping should consist of 24,000 to 28,000 servicemen or 40 battalion-tactical groups. If Russia sends a large number of its freshly mobilized troops, and Belarus conducts its own mobilization, such a contingent may already become a threat. But this takes time. At least until the beginning of next year, and even until the spring of next year. 

As of now, there is no direct threat of a major offensive from the territory of Belarus. But local provocations or border crossings could not be excluded. And the militarization of the country continues.

Which suggests that Putin still wants to make a military foothold in Belarus. But there is another question –his purpose is an attack, or defense? Yes, Russia deployed two hundred tanks, a hundred guns and mortars. As the satellite footage showed, the trains with equipment were arriving not to the border with Ukraine, but to the northern and central regions of Belarus.

If Putin absorbs Belarus and in fact remains in power (albeit not being president), then he can thus pull himself up by his own bootstraps. First of all, for an internal audience, to justify both war and partial mobilization. Imagine Ukraine returns its territories as of February 24th. But in the end, it will be closed in the hostile environment from three sides – from the North, South, and East.

In this case, the liberation of its territories for Ukraine may not be a complete victory. After all, the threat will not disappear – just the front line will move. It is important to say here that this scenario is still theoretical. But both Ukraine and the West have good reasons for reflection – what should this victory look like?