A three-day-long military exercise has begun in the southern Gomel Region, according to the Defense Ministry of Belarus. On July 12-14, the Belarusian territorial forces, a homeland defense unit, will train to defend local sites and serve at the checkpoints during the martial law.
The announcement of the drills comes on the backdrop of intensifying tensions between the Belarusian government and Ukraine, and fears that Belarus may officially enter Russia's war against Ukraine and send in troops.
Although Belarus is not a direct participant in Russia's war, it has been assisting the invasion by providing its territory and airspace for the Russian military to attack Ukraine.
Earlier this month, dictator Alexander Lukashenko said that "the participation of Belarus" in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was "pre-determined long ago," adding Belarus and Russia “have a unified army.” It contrasts with Lukashenko's statement in March, when he said that the Belarusian army "doesn't intend" to participate in the invasion.
Last week, Belarus transferred an airfield near the southern city of Gomel, close to Ukraine, under complete control of Russian troops, according to Oleksii Hromov, Deputy Chief of the Main Operational Department of the Ukrainian General Staff. He said the Russian Iskander-M and S-400 SAM missile system divisions have already been deployed to the airfield.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said in June Russia will give Belarus Iskander-M systems, which could carry nuclear weapons.
On July 1, Vadym Skibitskyi, Deputy Head of Ukraine’s military intelligence, said that seven battalions of the Belarusian Armed Forces are on the border with Ukraine.
He added the threat of an invasion of Ukraine by the Belarusian army remains, but a direct military offensive from Belarus is "unlikely." On June 26, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky published an address to the Belarusian people, urging them to oppose the war that they are "being dragged into."