Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has been testing the combat readiness of his country’s troops, only days after Vladimir Putin’s visit to Minsk raised concerns that the Russian president might be pressuring his ally and counterpart to get further involved in the conflict in Ukraine.
The official website of the President of the Republic of Belarus reported on Thursday that Lukashenko had held a meeting about the country’s security, claiming that “the current situation and threats” posed by the war in Ukraine justified preparing its troops for combat and re-deploying them closer to the border.
“If you want peace, prepare for war. It was not invented by me and not by you either,” Lukashenko said during the meeting, according to an official report.
“By doing this, I want to answer all sorts of rumors that appear in our society, especially on the Internet, about the movement of the armed forces of Belarus and the joint-movement of the armed forces of Belarus and Russia.”
The Belarusian strongman—who has kept his grip on power in the country for 28 years, despite mass protests in August 2020 over his victory in a contested election—said that Belarusian and Russian armed forces have been and continue to conduct joint-exercises as per a long-standing agreement between the two countries, adding that these are now “on a larger scale” because of the situation in Ukraine.
“We are conducting exercises on our territory,” said Lukashenko. “We are moving both the joint-grouping of armed forces and our armed forces to where we see fit. Period. No other plan, no conspiracy theories.”
Russian troops have been allowed to exercise in Belarusian territory since before the beginning of the invasion of Ukraine in February, which used Belarus as a launching pad.
During the Thursday meeting attended by military and security officials, Lukashenko said that he could not rule out an “aggression” against Belarus. Although he did not specify the country this could be coming from, the implication was that the dangerous “neighbor” mentioned by the leader is Ukraine.
“We cannot rule out that aggression may be launched against our country,” Lukashenko said. “At least, we see such a readiness on the part of our neighbors.”
Talking about the potential of a “terrorist” threat, Lukashenko—the only president Belarus has had since its current constitution was enacted in 1994—said that his country can count on “immediate reaction armed forces,” which are available to act “suddenly” should something “unexpected” happen.
“These forces rise in alarm for a certain period of time and go to the point where there is tension,” Lukashenko said. “I decided to check these immediate reaction forces.”
According to the Belarusian leader, training and exercises were conducted to check the combat readiness of these troops in view of any potential “terrorist” threat.
“No one excludes that terrorist groups invade the territory of Belarus from inside (which is unlikely, practically impossible) and from outside and seize either a separate building, a house, a state institution, a school, God forbid, or some kind of settlement in general,” Lukashenko said.
After testing whether the armed and special forces were ready for combat, Lukashenko said the troops returned to their places of permanent deployment. The results of the training exercises were mixed, according to the Belarusian leader.
“I’ll tell you straight, without hiding anything, so that we don’t click our heels and shout cheers: there were also shortcomings,” he said during the meeting.
“I would like attention to be focused on these shortcomings today. Because in the event of hostilities, these shortcomings will become critical—people will die. This cannot be allowed.”
Military analysts previously told Newsweek that it’s unlikely that Belarusian armed forces will be brought to the battlefield in Ukraine in support of Russian troops, citing opposition to the war by the Belarusian public and Lukashenko’s reluctance to get further dragged into the war—especially as the stability of his regime could be on line.
British former military officer Frank Ledwidge said that Belarus has “very limited regular forces” which would not have a significant impact on the war in Ukraine.
Washington-based think tank the Institute for the Study of War, which has been monitoring Russia’s invasion of Ukraine since its beginning, reported that direct involvement of Belarusian troops is “unlikely,” although it wrote that “Russia is reportedly leveraging Belarusian trainers to train mobilized forces and possibly contract soldiers and conscripts, indicating the limitations of Russian training bandwidth.”