As Russia fails to inflict quick defeat upon Ukraine after four days of fierce hostilities, Vladimir Putin is about to pull his Belarusian ally, dictator Aleksandr Lukashenko into his war of occupation.
Amid many speculations, multiple sources say the decision has been made — and as soon as on Feb. 28 at 5 a.m. local time, the first Ilyushin Il-76 transport aircraft is very likely to take off carrying Belarusian paratroopers to be deployed against Ukraine.
It’s not clear whether the local time the messages refer to is Belarusian or Ukrainian; 5 a.m. in Minsk is 4 a.m. in Kyiv.
Rumors regarding the official Belarusian involvement in the war started circulating on Feb. 27, the fourth day of Russia’s all-out war on Ukraine, following a report presented to diplomatic circles by unnamed Belarusian opposition journalists.
The message suggested that Belarusian troops might be deployed to the Kyiv or the Zhytomyr areas in assistance to the Russian invading force.
The report couldn’t be verified, but there have been other indications of Belarusian military activity. A media campaign was launched, particularly by Belarusian opposition media, to warn off the Belarusian involvement.
As part of the endeavor, former high-ranking Belarusian airborne commander Valeriy Sakhashik, in a video address, urged all Belarusian paratroopers not to obey unlawful orders that would throw them into a war against a friendly nation.
Several thousand Belarusian citizens rallied against the war across the country on Feb. 27.
Besides, as Ukraine’s presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych said on Feb. 27, numerous indications suggested that the Belarusian military was being put on alert.
It is known from Belarusian media that the country’s armed forces include nearly 45,000 military personnel and 20,000 civilian employees. In Arestovych’s opinion, just 17,000 Belarusian military personnel are of considerable combat efficacy, so their involvement would likely not be that significant for Russia, which amassed at least 150,000 troops for the invasion of Ukraine.
On Feb. 27, Lukashenko said that Belarusians started facing violence in Ukraine and that Kyiv is threatening Belarus with terror activities. It echoed the pretext that Putin gave for launching the invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24.
Amid concerns, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky had a phone call with Lukashenko on Feb. 27, following which the Ukrainian leader said Lukashenko reassured him of his non-involvement in Russia’s war.
However, according to former Ukrainian Defense Minister Andriy Zagorodnyuk, in reality, the Belarusian dictator, whose existence highly depends on Putin, has no choice other than to join.
From the expert’s perspective, Belarus's involvement would be an escalating factor, though it would not have a dramatic escalation effect in the war. In particular, Lukashenko might invade Ukraine’s northwestern regions on which Russia is not currently focused.
“But the Belarusian military has no combat experience, at all,” Zagorodnyuk said. “It really matters. And they are not motivated, they do not really understand what they will be doing in Ukraine.”
The media campaign to warn off Belarusian soldiers from joining the Ukrainian invasion has just started, and it needs to be continued, Zagorodnyuk said.
“If god forbid, Lukashenko gives an order to go in, I hope many would refuse to shoot at Ukrainians,” he said. “Otherwise, this will be a historic tragedy between the two peoples.”