There are an estimated 10 to 15,000 Russian troops in Belarus, but that doesn’t mean an attack from the northern sector toward Kyiv is imminent. The Russian force may be there for training purposes, as a show of force, or as a potential feint to try and draw Ukrainian fighters and resources to the north. It remains to be seen whether Belarusian President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko has the stomach to allow Russia to attack from his country. His own Belarusian troops have a defensive and not offensive posture.
The Russians in Belarus Are Lightly Armed
The Russian troops are not equipped with the requisite tanks and armored vehicles in Belarus, plus there are low levels of logistical transportation to keep an armored maneuver force supplied. The Russian army is too weak to open up a new front. Generals must focus on eastern Ukraine to stop the bleeding from effective Ukrainian counter-attacks. One job the Russian soldiers in Belarus can do is train some of the new conscripts as the 300,000 soldiers who have been called up lack basic fundamentals for combat.
They May Try an Interdiction Against Poland
An attack from Belarus to open up a new front would likely not be effective as the Ukrainians repelled the northern invasion that threatened Kyiv early in the war. Although troops from Belarus could be arrayed toward the Polish border with Ukraine to interdict supplies coming from through Poland toward Kyiv.
Western Ukrainian Forces Would Punish a Russian Advance
However, this type of operation would be hazardous for Vladimir Putin and Lukashenko. Western Ukraine would be “very, very risky,” according to Valery Kavaleuski, a former Belarusian diplomat, who was quoted in the New York Times. “It would be suicidal, a very bad idea,” Kavaleuski said.
Would Belarus Get Involved in the War?
While Belarus has approximately 70,000 troops mobilized near the Ukrainian border to form a joint force with Russia, Lukashenko is reticent to use them as an invading force and would only deploy them to fight in a showdown with NATO if that came to pass.
The Belarusian president could call up more reservists (Belarus has over 289,000 personnel in reserve) and that would give him additional troops, but a large mobilization would alert Western intelligence who would warn Ukraine. Belarus has only 500 tanks, mostly T-72Bs, and 957 armored personnel carriers. This entire supply would need to be mobilized for a Belarusian attack incursion into Ukraine.
Belarus Is Not Prepared for Combat
But many Belarusians do not have the will to fight in Ukraine. “My sources in the Belarusian army say 90 percent won’t fight,” according to Pavel Kukhta who is part of a volunteer Belarusian unit that is fighting for Ukraine against Russia. Kukhta told BBC that the Belarusian troops are not trained well, have inadequate equipment, and morale is terrible – even worse than the Russian army.
The Emphasis Is on Donbas
Artyom Shraibman, writing for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said that Russia had plans for new tanks and infantry fighting vehicles to be deployed to Belarus but that has not materialized. Shraibman also pointed out that Belarus and Russia are instead redeploying tanks to the Donbas region to shore up defenses there.
The Plan Is to Continue Striking Ukrainian Civilian Structures
Russia is more likely to continue bombardment of critical infrastructure to disrupt the power grid. Moscow has ordered missile strikes from Belarus. Many Ukrainians are without electricity and water in Kyiv as winter sets in. Putin is trying to break the will of the Ukrainian people to fight on.
Look for Russian troops to continue their deployment in Belarus for defensive and not offensive purposes. Even if they combined with Belarus for a multi-national attack against Ukraine from the north, the assets and motivated troops ready to fight are not there. Russia is afraid to take the risk and attention will continue to focus on the Donbas region. Belarus is more of a training area for mobilized Russian reservists.
They are not ready to attack anything at this time.
Expert Biography: Serving as 1945’s Defense and National Security Editor, Dr. Brent M. Eastwood is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer. You can follow him on Twitter @BMEastwood. He holds a Ph.D. in Political Science and Foreign Policy/International Relations.