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Will Belarus Join in Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine?

T-72 tank firing. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

Ever since Vladimir Putin’s “special military operation” in Ukraine began a year ago, there has been plenty of discussion about the possibility of Belarus allying itself with Russia and thus creating another front for the intrepid but beleaguered Ukrainian defenders to contend with.

After all, the autocratic Alexander Lukashenko, Belarus’s only president in its entire history as an independent nation, is well-known for being buddy-buddy with Putin.

What’s more, this past Monday, reports were leaked that Mr. Putin’s executive office distributed an internal strategy document in fall 2021 that lays out the Kremlin’s 10-year plan to take full control of Belarus.

Whether or not Mr. Lukashenko’s friendship with Putin equates to an actual willingness to cede independence is anybody’s guess. In the meantime, this is as good a time as any to take a look at the Armed Forces of Belarus and what sort of equipment they’d bring to the table if called upon to fight alongside Russia.

In this article, which is the first of a two-part series, we’ll look at their army. 

Belarus Army Structure

Officially known as the Belarusian Ground Forces (Сухапутныя войскі Рэспублікі Беларусь) and established on 20 March 1992, the army has a current manpower strength of approximately 16,500 troops, mostly conscripts, thus ranking it 56th out of 145 countries in terms of size.

The chain of command starts with the aforementioned Mr. Lukashenko, followed by the Minister of Defense, Lieutenant General Viktor Khrenin, and  the Chief of the General Staff, Major General Filip Anadyrov.

Beyond the Headquarters in Minsk, the structure divides into a Western Operational Command and a North Western Operational Command.

Pistolet Makarovka (PM)/Makarov 9x18mm Pistol)

Ironically, this pistol – which was adopted by the Red Army back in 1951 — is currently serving as one of the two main sidearms of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, and plenty are still in Russian Army hands as well, despite the fact that the PM was officially replaced by the  RPC Fort-17 and MP-443 Grach respectively.

It is a double-action semiautomatic pistol that employs direct blowback operation and holds an 8-round magazine. The 9x18mm cartridge that it utilizes is slightly more than the .380 ACP but significantly less than the 9mm Parabellum pistol caliber used by NATO.

From having owned two different Makarov pistols in my lifetime – the first one I purchased back in 2001 was a Russian-made IJ-70, whilst the one I currently own is a Bulgarian-made speci men I bought back in 2003 – I can vouch for their robustness, reliability, accuracy – I’ve routinely nailed 25-yard head shots with the thing — ease of carry, and ease of maintenance.

AK-74M Rifle

The Avtomat Kalashnikova obraztsa 1974 goda/Автомат Калашникова образца 1974 года, which literally translates into “Kalashnikov assault rifle model 1974” was designed by Mikhail Kalashnikov, most famous for being the inventor of the AK-47 that preceded it.

At first glance, the two rifles look very similar, and both are gas operated with a rotating bolt. Most importantly from a soldier’s perspective, the ’74 retains the legendary reliability, ruggedness, and caveman simplicity — both weapons can be field-stripped in one minute without using any tools — of the ’47.

The key distinction of the newer (relatively speaking) rifle is that instead of the 7.62x39mm round, it employs a 5.45x39mm cartridge. As Travis Pike noted in a July 2021 article for SOFPREP, “The AK-74 took cues from the M16 rifle and reduced the caliber to the more intermediate 5.45x39mm round.

The days of 7.62 rifles ruling the battlefield were over, and the Russians recognized the potential behind a smaller, more intermediate caliber.” The standard magazine capacity remains 30 rounds.           

T-72 Main Battle Tank (MBT) 

When this MBT first arrived on the scene 50 years ago, it was much feared and much vaunted. However, heavy combat losses, starting with the 1991 Persian Gulf War AKA Operation Desert Storm, and continuing into the present, have done much to besmirch the T-72’s reputation.

That said, however, as per the official website of The Tank Museum at Bovington Camp in South West England’s Dorset County, “The T-72 is the most widely used main battle tank in the world. It has been manufactured in six countries, is in service with the armies of 35 nations and has fought in all the major wars of the last 20 years.”

And that 125mm smoothbore main gun still ain’t nothin’ to sneeze at.

The Belarus Ground Forces have an estimated 862 T-72s in their arsenal. 

BMP-2 (Boyevaya Mashina Pekhoty) Infantry Fighting Vehicle (IFV) 

As per my 19FortyFive colleague Peter Suciu, the BMP-2 “is a second-generation, amphibious IFV that was first introduced in the 1980s, and improved on the BMP-1 that had been first employed in the late 1960s.…The 14-ton tracked vehicle has a crew of three and can carry up to seven infantry soldiers.

It is armed with a 30mm autocannon and a Konkurs launcher, while welded steel armor provides all-round protection against 12.7 mm rounds. However, it offers little protection from landmines.”

It is believed that the Belorussian army has 932 of these IFVs.

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Next in the Series 

In the next installment in this series, we’ll take a look at Belarus’s Air Force. (There’s no navy to speak of, since Belarus is a landlocked country.) Stay tuned.

Christian D. Orr has 33 years of shooting experience, starting at the tender age of 14. His marksmanship accomplishments include: the Air Force Small Arms Ribbon w/one device (for M16A2 rifle and M9 pistol); Pistol Expert Ratings from U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP), Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) Criminal Investigator Training Program (CITP); multiple medals and trophies via the Glock Sport Shooting Foundation (GSSF) and the Nevada Police & Fires Games (NPAF). Chris has been an NRA Certified Basic Pistol Instructor since 2011.  In his spare time, he enjoys (besides shooting, obviously) dining out, cigars, Irish and British pubs, travel, USC Trojans college football, and Washington DC professional sports.

Written By

Christian D. Orr is a former Air Force officer, Federal law enforcement officer, and private military contractor (with assignments worked in Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Kosovo, Japan, Germany, and the Pentagon).